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Stable 2H isotope analysis of modern-day human hair and nails can aid forensic human identification

Authors

  • Isla Fraser,

    1. Environmental Forensics and Human Health Lab., Environmental Engineering Research Centre, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT9 5AG, UK
    Current affiliation:
    1. Forensic Science Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus BT38 8PL, UK.
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  • Wolfram Meier-Augenstein

    Corresponding author
    1. Environmental Forensics and Human Health Lab., Environmental Engineering Research Centre, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT9 5AG, UK
    • Environmental Forensics and Human Health Lab., Environmental Engineering Research Centre, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT9 5AG, UK.
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Abstract

Continuous-flow isotope ratio mass spectrometry (CF-IRMS) was used to compare 2H isotopic composition at natural abundance level of human scalp hair and fingernail samples collected from subjects worldwide with interpolated δ2H precipitation values at corresponding locations. The results showed a strong correlation between δ2H values of meteoric water and hair (r2 = 0.86), while the corresponding correlation for nails was not as strong (r2 = 0.6). Offsets of −180‰ and −127‰ were observed when calculating solutions of the linear regression analyses for δ2H vs. δ18O correlation plots of hair and nail samples, respectively. Compared with the +10‰ offset of the global meteoric water line equation these findings suggested that δ18O data from hair and nail would be of limited diagnostic value. The results of this pilot study provide for the first time tentative correlations of 2H isotopic composition of human hair and nails with local water. Linear regression analyses for measured δ2H values of human hair and nails vs. water yielded δ2H(hair) = 0.49 × δ2H(water) − 35 and δ2H(nails) = 0.38 × δ2H(water) − 49, respectively. The results suggest that 2H isotopic analysis of hair and nail samples can be used to provide information regarding an individual's recent geographical life history and, hence, location. The benefit of this technique is to aid identification of victims of violent crime and mass disasters in circumstances where traditional methods such as DNA and fingerprinting cannot be brought to bear (or at least not immediately). Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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