DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.15444 ISSN: 0022-1198

An innovative transfer DNA experimental design and qPCR assay to identify primary, secondary, and tertiary DNA transfer

Samantha M. McCrane, Connie J. Mulligan
  • Genetics
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


“Touch DNA” is a form of trace DNA that is presumed to be deposited when an individual touches something and leaves behind DNA‐containing skin cells, sweat, or other fluids. While touch DNA is often the result of direct contact (i.e., primary transfer), it can also be indirectly transferred between surfaces or individuals (e.g., secondary or tertiary transfer). Even experts cannot distinguish between different types of transfer and do not fully understand which variables affect direct versus indirect transfer or how often each type of transfer occurs. In this study, we utilize an innovative protocol that combines a paired male and female transfer DNA experimental design with an Amelogenin qPCR assay to generate data on primary, secondary, and tertiary DNA transfer. We report frequencies of indirect DNA transfer and also investigate the potential effects of participant age, self‐identified ethnicity, and skin conditions on DNA transfer. Out of 22 experimental trials, we detected primary transfer (male + female) in 71% of trials, secondary DNA transfer in 50% of trials, and tertiary DNA transfer in 27% of trials. No significant associations were found between primary DNA transfer and age, self‐identified ancestry, or skin conditions, however, all individuals with sloughing skin conditions demonstrated primary DNA transfer and we suggest this variable be explored in larger samples. These results contribute to a better understanding of the conditions under which secondary and tertiary DNA transfer occurs and can be used to propose realistic DNA transfer scenarios in court cases.

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