A dental forensic breakthrough

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iStock_000010969897_Large_PPForensic biomedical scientists from Belgian university KU Leuven have developed a test to determine a person’s age on the basis of blood or teeth samples, according to a new paper published in Epigenetics journal. It is, as the paper suggests, particularly useful dental forensic breakthrough for the police force, as it can assist in the tracking down of criminals or to identify human remains.

Until now, forensic examiners have been able to use blood found at a crime scene to identify a criminal through DNA testing, but this new research development additionally provides the criminal’s age, assisting in the process.

As human tissue and organs change as we grow older, the team of researchers are the first to have successfully used this ageing process, embedded in our individual DNA, to predict an individual’s age. “The behaviour of our organs and tissues depends on which of our genes are activated,” explained Professor Bram Bekaert of the university’s forensic biomedical sciences unit. “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.”

Professor Bekaert and his team employ a set of four age-associated DNA methylation markers to predict an individual’s age, with the markets providing highly accurate predictions with an error margin or merely 3.75 years for blood samples and 4.86 years for teeth.

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