U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Improving Seminal Fluid Detection Sensitivity in Extended Post-Coital Intervals by QQQ Mass Spectrometry

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $49,799)

As submitted by the proposer:

An estimated 79,770 rapes were reported to US law enforcement agencies in 2013. Approximately 18% of women in the US have been raped in their lifetime - including 1.8 million adolescents. The timely recovery of physical evidence is critical to investigations of sexual assault. This is especially true of child victims, where disclosure of sexual abuse and rape is often delayed. As the time between an assault and evidence collection increases, the ability to successfully recover seminal fluid, sperm cells and/or DNA rapidly diminishes. For this reason, the length of time since an assault can influence the potential for successful testing; the priority assigned to testing (especially in backlog reduction efforts); and even whether or not a sexual assault samples will be collected at all.
Commercial kits used to detect seminal fluid often fail to detect semen just 24 to 33 hours into the post-coital interval. These tests are also subject to false positive and false negative results. Even when successful, they provide only a presumptive indication of seminal fluid. Thus, a more sensitive and specific assay for the unambiguous identification of seminal fluid would provide a powerful tool for the investigation of sexual assault.

The aim of the proposed research, therefore, is to address the limitations of existing assays by combining high-sensitivity protein mass spectrometry with high-specificity protein biomarkers. This will allow the detection of trace quantities of seminal fluid. The validity this approach has already been demonstrated in pilot studies of simulated sexual assault evidence. The research detailed in this proposal has two core research objectives:
(1) Develop and optimize a confirmatory high-sensitivity assay for human seminal fluid to facilitate the analysis of challenging sexual assault evidence.
(2) Rigorously assess the post-coital time frame within which seminal fluid can be reliably detected in sexual assault-like samples.

This will improve the quality of sexual assault evidence testing by making it possible to obtain probative results from samples that might otherwise yield inconclusive or no results at all. The successful completion and implementation of the results of this research will provide the forensic and criminal justice communities throughout the United States with a powerful tool to aid in the criminal investigation of sexual assault cases. The results of this work will be made publically available in reports to the NIJ, at professional conferences and in peer reviewed journals.

This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.


Date Created: September 15, 2015