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Characterization and Quantification of Microbial Degradation of Sexual Lubricants

Award Information

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

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $50,000)

As submitted by the proposer: As DNA analysis is accepted as the “gold standard” for identification purposes, condom usage with sexual assaults has increased. The lubricant from the condom can remain at the crime scene or on the victim and provide a link to the suspect. In an ideal setting, samples from sexual assault kits will arrive at the lab in a pristine condition. If evidence is improperly packaged for shipping, then microbial degradation can occur. During a sexual assault the condom will be exposed to multiple bacterial strains that populate the female genitalia including the Lactobacillus and Megasphaera species. When exposed to the female microbiome lubricants can degrade which hinder the identification of residual lubricants, thus severing the link between suspect, sexual assault and victim. The purpose of this project is to identify the major degradation components of residual lubricants and characterize the overall change in the chemical composition. The first phase exposes lubricant standards to laboratory grown microbes to determine normal degradation trends. Samples will be analyzed on the DART-TOFMS and GC-MS to compare the accuracy of lubricant identification between degraded and non-degraded samples. Thus generating analytical methods for both instruments. (Duration: 8 months) Phase 2 will evaluate the degradation of 45 condoms samples from laboratory grown microbes to identify the change in the overall chemical composition from the unaltered lubricant. Additionally, the degraded samples will be compared to the initial degradation trends observed in Phase 1. (Duration: 9 months) The third phase will require collecting vaginal mucus from 20 female volunteers to identify the human microbiome. Personal identifiers will not be collected; however, descriptors such as age, race, recent sexual activity, and the vaginal microbiome history will be collected. The standards and condoms will be exposed to the human samples to determine degradation of the lubricants. (Duration: 15 months) Bayesian networks and likelihood ratios will be applied to the degradation data to identify degradation trends and determine if degraded samples can be matched to the non-degraded lubricant. The graduate student will lead the characterization and microbial degradation of the lubricants as well as produce publications, presentations, and a dissertation presenting the findings of each milestone. Generated data sets will be archived as .csv files at NACJD and on NCFS website for interested researchers. This analytical method to compare microbial degraded samples with non-degraded lubricants will provide forensic analysts more information that can be exploited from traditional forensic samples.

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

Date Created: July 18, 2016