This interview from the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) “Justice Today” podcast series is Part 1 of an interview with Gregory Dutton, a physical scientist at NIJ, along with science writer Jim Dawson, who discuss the microbiome, i.e., what it is, how it applies to forensics, and the evolution of its role in forensic science.
As a forensic science research and development (R&D) program manager at NIJ, Greg Dutton’s portfolio includes the microbiome research being funded by NIJ. Jim Dawson, who is conducting the interview with Greg Dutton, notes in his introductory comments that over the past decade, the human microbiome – consisting of millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on everyone – has become increasingly important in criminal investigations under the realization that all of us leave traces of our unique microbial evidence everywhere we have been. The field of microbial forensics emerged from the response to the 2001 anthrax attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Florida, which killed five people and infected 17 others. The research in microbial forensics has advanced significantly since then. Greg Dutton has been working with the microbiome researchers funded by NIJ. In this interview, Dutton defines microbiome as “a community of microscopic living organisms.” These include bacteria, viruses, and fungi, all of which live on humans. If a microbiome of an individual is sampled over time it will tend to have some stability and have some differences from others. Researchers are just recognizing how the features of microbiomes can be useful for forensic science. Dutton traces the chronology and features of forensic science research on the microbiome, with a focus on the type of microbiome research that has been funded by NIJ. The interview ends with preparation for Part 2, which continues the discussion of the forensic relevance of microbiomes.