Forensic drowning site inference employing mixed pyrosequencing profile of DNA barcode gene (rbcL)


The development of DNA barcoding method has given rise to a promising way of studying genetic taxonomy. Our previous study showed that pyrosequencing profile of 18S rDNA V7 hypervariable region can be used for identifying water sources without resolving the exact components of diatom colonies in water samples. In this continued study, we aimed to improve the established analysis method and to provide scientific evidence for forensic practices. A drowning animal model was set up by injecting mimic drowning fluid into the respiratory tract of the rabbit. In order to minimize the interference of animal DNA, the hypervariable region of chloroplast ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase large unit gene (rbcL) was used as the pyrosequencing target region for the consistency analysis of plankton populations in tissues and water samples. After decoding the pyrosequencing profile of the targeted rbcL gene with the AdvISER-M-PYRO algorithm, the plankton colony that was inhaled into drowning animal lung tissue could be successfully traced back to the source of drowning fluid. Our data suggest that this method could be a reliable tool assisting forensic drowning site inference.

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We thank Dr. John J Xin (Tufts University School of Medicine) for assistance in manuscript revision, as well as Miss Yue Zhang and Mr. Derek Xu (Brown University) for language editing.


This study was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81630054, 81571861).

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Correspondence to Yufang Wang or Ji Zhang.

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Fang, T., Liao, S., Chen, X. et al. Forensic drowning site inference employing mixed pyrosequencing profile of DNA barcode gene (rbcL). Int J Legal Med 133, 1351–1360 (2019).

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  • Forensic science
  • Drowning site inference
  • Diatom
  • Plankton
  • DNA barcode
  • rbcL
  • Pyrosequencing