Plants Could Provide a New Dimension to Crime Scene Analysis


  • Paul Russo
  • Weidong Zhou
  • Virginia Espina



The field of forensics leans heavily on the development of novel methods of crime scene analysis. Many of these methods have their roots in biology and chemistry laboratories. Our research describes how plants may allow indirect detection of a buried human body. We hypothesized that specific molecules from a buried cadaver are absorbed by nearby plant systems during decomposition. We grew two flowering plants from seed: Cosmos bipinnatus (Cosmos) and Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan). Ground beef was buried in some of the pots to imitate organic matter from a human cadaver. After 3 weeks, we collected plant and soil samples, and analyzed them using thin layer chromatography and mass spectrometry, to identify bovine proteins, hormones, and amino acids. The thin layer chromatography profiles suggested that specific proteins from the beef were also present in our plant samples. This indicates that the plants grown with beef in the soil actively absorbed beef proteins, supporting our hypothesis. Mass spectrometry data will confirm our hypothesis. Further experiments can be done to supplement our preliminary data. If our results prove to be authentic and reproducible, they may provide a basis for the development of new forensics tools to detect the presence of human remains. If developed, these tools could greatly contribute to the efficiency and accuracy of evidence collection at crime scenes. 





College of Science: School of Systems Biology