LEUVEN, Belgium, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Criminals can run, but they can't hide -- at least, not as long breakthroughs in forensic science continue to materialize.
Researchers at Belgium's University of Leuven (KU Leuven) say a new method for analyzing blood and teeth samples could help investigators estimate a criminal's age. The methodology could also be used to determine the age of deceased individual, when other identification methods fail to yield conclusive results.
As the body ages, so does the way its organs are regulated by DNA. These changes can be found in the body's genome. In linking the aging process with gene regulation, or the epigenome, scientists at KU Leuven have invented a method for using DNA from bio samples to estimate age.
"The behaviour of our organs and tissues depends on which of our genes are activated," Bram Bekaert, a forensic scientist at KU Leuven, explained in a press release. "As we grow older, some genes are switched on, while others are switched off. This process is partly regulated by methylation, whereby methyl groups are added to our DNA. In specific locations, genes with high methylation levels are deactivated."
In testing their breakthrough methodology in the lab, Bekaert and his colleagues were able to use four DNA methylation markers to estimate an individual's age. Their work with blood samples produced estimates with a margin of error of 3.75 years. The margin of error for tooth samples was 4.86 years.
The new DNA analysis method is detailed in the journal Epigenetics.