Microbial forensics is a new and emerging discipline that first gained globally recognized as the result of the Bacillus anthrax attacks in 2001. This growing discipline still remains within the early stages of development and faces substantial scientific challenges to provide a sturdy suite of technologies for identifying the source of a biological threat agent and attributing a bio-threat act to a specific person or cluster.
Microbial forensics refers to the investigation of the utilization of bio-weapon, and therefore the accidental unleash or natural development of dangerous microorganisms. It can be also defined as Microbial forensics as a scientific discipline dedicated to analyzing evidence from a bioterrorism act, bio-crime, or unintended micro-organism/toxin release for attribution purposes.
The unlawful use of biological agents poses substantial dangers to individuals, public health, the environment, the economies of states or nations as well as global peace.
How Is Microbial Forensics Helpful in Investigation?
A microorganism is present all around and too small to see through our naked eyes. So, it can possibly be said as trace evidence in the forensic Investigations.
Investigators use Microbial Forensics to ascertain the precise identity of a microorganism threat, discover the source of the threat, and to estimate the impact of such a threat. This field may help identify such groups by providing information concerning the sophistication of the specific bio-threat.
For instance, the use of genetically modified strains of microorganisms may suggest that the perpetrator is well-funded, whereas a lone perpetrator is likely to leave physical and chemical evidence of the production process used to grow the strain.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) might be performed to amplify the quantity of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) or Ribo Nucleic Acid (RNA) available from a small sample volume, whereas techniques such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) can be used to establish the presence of specific proteins that are unique to some microorganisms or viruses. Several microorganisms can also be identified using common staining and microscopic examination.
The duties of a forensic microbiologist are to identify the sample, collect the sample from the victims or sometimes from the crime scene, preserve the sample in a well proper manner without causing any contamination and maintain the chain of custody throughout the crime scene to the laboratory of law enforcement.
The microbial attack occurs in a cluster of individuals usually are of 2 types: covert way and overt way.
In an overt way, it is caused by terrorists for instance transferring a package that contains biological agents and can harm individuals if released into the surroundings. In this case, there’s a large involvement of law enforcement and their concerns are who caused it, isolate identification, production method, and Epidemiological consideration. Whereas in a covert way, attacks are natural disease breaks in the surroundings.
With advancements in microbiology and genetics and the declining costs of DNA sequencing, microbes are poised to play an enormous role in forensics. Researchers have shown that microbes have the potential to change toxicological results, purpose to cause of death, and even place a suspect at the scene of a criminal offense.
They also found that just like a succession of insects in forensic entomology, the communities of microbes on decomposing corpses change in a predictable manner over time. This could help in estimating the post-mortem interval, which is also known as the time elapsed since death, of human remains in the case of criminal investigations because microbes are instrumental in the role of decomposition with the stage of decay indicating the time elapsed since death.
A government database stores the DNA fingerprints of microbes and maintains a database that can be used by law enforcement agencies. This database contains all the information on biological and genetic data on microbial diseases. This data takes information from several organisms and compare one genome with another genome.
In a crime aspect, microbial forensics will determine and give a clear explanation about the cause of death by any microorganisms. It also helps in finding the location by analyzing soil micro-biomes and the sexually transmitted microbial diseases.
Tools employed in the investigations are electron microscopy, crystallography, molecular sequencing, microbial culture, chemistry, biochemistry, and mass spectrometry. For finding causative agents lab should be sophisticated and ventilated and scientists should wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks, face shields, etc.
Microbial Forensics field is developing in India day-by-day. We need abundant research and awareness regarding bio crime and the future is also about bio war.
This Corona pandemic is one such example. With different tools and techniques, microbial forensics facilitates finding the perpetrators who cause bio crime, and advanced medical tools in microbial forensics help the medical to protect the individuals from bio-threat.