Traces under nails in clinical forensic medicine: not just DNA


When dealing with complex crimes such as rape and assault, every trace takes on an essential role. The hands are often the only means of defence and offence for the victim as well as a frequent area of contact with the environment; fingernails of a victim are a well-known possible source of DNA of the aggressor; nevertheless, they are more rarely treated as an area of interest for non-genetic material, particularly on living victims. The hyponychium, because of its physiological protective function, lends itself ideally to retaining different kinds of traces representative of an environment or various products and substrates that could shed light on the environment and objects involved in the event. We therefore tested how far this capability of the hyponychium could go by simulating the dynamics of contamination of the nail through scratching on different substrates (brick and mortar, painted wood, ivy leaves, cotton and woollen fabric, soil) and persistence of any contaminant at different time intervals. We have thus shown how these traces may remain in the living for up to 24 h after the event using inexpensive and non-destructive techniques such as the episcopic and optical microscope.

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Correspondence to Giulia Caccia.

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Caccia, G., Re, L., Caccianiga, M. et al. Traces under nails in clinical forensic medicine: not just DNA. Int J Legal Med (2021).

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  • Forensic science
  • Clinical forensic medicine
  • Nails
  • Environmental and product traces