In Brief
A new method of fingerprint identification can distinguish whether a print is male or female and presents potential applications for forensics.
Sorting out Sex

A research group from University at Albany has discovered a new technique that identifies the sex of fingerprints. Or rather, it identifies the sex of an individual based on their fingerprints. The team is led by Jan Halamek, an assistant chemistry professor who bases his new identification method on amino acids.

It is largely known that amino acid levels in the sweat of females are twice as high as males; distribution is also notably different due to the hormonal difference between the sexes—and these same characteristics are evident in fingerprints left behind on the things that we touch.

To back these claims, Halamek extracted amino acids from a fingerprint using a piece of plastic wrap. A hydrochloric solution is dropped onto the print and is then heated—this allows the amino acids to migrate to the acidic solution. At this point, scientists can easily check the amino acid levels and distinguish the sex.

According to Halamek and his team, original tests of the method resulted in 99 percent accuracy of the correct sex classification.

Male or Female

“One of the main goals for this project was to move toward looking at the chemical content within the fingerprint, as opposed to relying on simply the fingerprint image,” Halámek said.

The technique isn’t meant to compete with DNA analysis, but it does have potential to be used as a complementary way to identify people, particularly those that are not in any of the current databases. This research will prove especially useful for crime scene fingerprint identification.

The study is still in the early stages, and Halamek is pursuing research towards finding additional identification methods that can prove to be useful in the field of forensics.