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Was the DNA at the Crime Scene Left by the Perpetrator – or by a Pet?

by Douglas Ankney

Collaborating with the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department, forensic science researcher and Ph.D. candidate Heidi Monkman, along with Dr. Mariya Goray – both from the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders – collected human DNA from 20 pet cats from multiple households. A whopping 80% of the samples contained detectable levels of DNA. And “interpretable profiles that could be linked to a person of interest were generated from 70% of the cats tested.”

Monkman expressed that “it is important to fill in the gaps in the knowledge available to date.” She said, “[c]ollection of human DNA from animals may become an important tool in crime scene investigations, however there is a lack of data on companion animals such as cats and dogs in their relationship to human DNA transfer to draw any strong conclusions yet.”

Goray, an experienced crime scene investigator and expert in DNA transfer, opined that this data could be very relevant when interpreting forensic DNA results from crime scenes that include pets. Further research is needed, however, on the “transfer, persistence and prevalence of human DNA to and from cats and other pet animals, along with the influences of animal behavioral habits, the DNA shedder status of the owners and many other relevant factors.”

As Goray summed it up: “This type of data can help us understand the meaning of the DNA results obtained, especially if there is a match to a person of interest. Are these DNA findings the result of criminal activity or could they have been transferred and deposited at the scene via a pet?” For some people who find themselves the subject of a police investigation, the answer to that question could have enormous implications. 


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