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Mite-y detectives reveal the secrets of a crime scene

Release Date 12 August 2009

Tiny mites should be given a larger role in solving major crimes as they could hold vital clues, according to a scientist from the University of Reading.

In a special issue of the journal Experimental and Applied Acarology, Dr M. Alejandra Perotti and colleagues discuss how mites could provide valuable evidence about a crime scene, including how, when and why a person has died.

Mites can be found pretty much everywhere, in our houses and furnishings, on our clothes, and even in the pores of our skin. They are micro-habitat specific and might provide evidential data on movement or relocation of bodies, or locating a suspect at the scene of a crime.

Because of their high diversity, wide occurrence, and abundance, mites may be of great value in the analysis of trace evidence. A suspect can leave behind not only his or her own skin mites, but also soil mites attached to the shoes, socks and the lower parts of trousers.

Most crimino-legal investigations that explore trace evidence and analyse post-mortem intervals 48 hours after death include the study of arthropods. Currently, this usually includes larger insects, found in and around a body or at the scene of a crime, and helps to determine time of death. Mites are usually there too, and could be used in this way in cases when other larger insects are not present.

Dr M. Alejandra Perotti, from the University's School of Biological Sciences, believes that mites are being overlooked by forensic scientists and could be key in cracking big cases.

Dr Perotti said: "Mites are with us all the time and they could be used to help reveal the secrets of a dead body. They can be used to determine time of death and be important for trace, giving vital clues about a suspect and circumstances.

In the future it could and should be standard practice for forensic scientists to collaborate with acarologists."

Because mites are so widespread, there are few situations in which people and objects associated with crime will not be exposed to them, and they could be important trace evidence in forensic investigations.

ENDS

For more information please contact James Barr, University of Reading Press Office on 0118 378 7115 or by email on j.w.barr@reading.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

Acarology is the study of mites and ticks, and the University of Reading is the world reference institution for Forensic Acarology. Investigations on Forensic Acarology are supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

The University of Reading is ranked as one of the UK's top research-intensive universities. The quality and diversity of the University's research and teaching is recognised internationally as one of the top 200 universities in the world.

Issue 49 of Experimental and Applied Acarology is a special issue which focuses on Forensic Acarology http://www.springerlink.com/content/100158/

Caption for the picture - a Cheyletus mite lifted by a fingerprint-tape from a used sweater

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