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Cat Fur Can Identify Criminals

By Jennifer Viegas

Cat Fur Can Identify Criminals

One of the best home security systems requires no monthly contracts or electrical wiring and may go unnoticed by crooks. Thanks to innovative new research, cat fur is helping to identify and convict miscreants, from robbers to murderers. As a result, your purring lap kitty could one day save your belongings -- and maybe even your life.

Inspiration From TV Crime Shows
Dr. Leslie Lyons, one of the world’s leading experts on cat genetics, pioneered the research. She enjoys watching certain television crime programs. “I’m a big fan of ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,’” she says, which included two episodes where cat fur was part of the evidence. Lyons, based at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, was already compiling information on cat DNA when a lightbulb moment struck her.

Lyons and her colleagues then created a DNA database that forensic science experts can use to help identify the source of cat fur. “Because cats incessantly groom, cat fur may have nucleated cells, not only in the hair bulb, but also as epithelial cells on the hair shaft deposited during the grooming process, thereby generally providing material for DNA profiling,” Lyons and her team report in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. So each strand of fur shed by your cat might contain DNA-rich cells at the root end or even DNA-containing skin cells stuck to the hair shaft itself.

How Cat Fur Catches Criminals

Lyons, who shares her household with four cats, suggests that a perpetrator might not be able to control one detail, if breaking into your house. “I can’t come out of my house without cat fur on me,” she says, adding that the same can happen to unwanted visitors. Anyone who enters a house where a cat resides leaves with one or more cat hairs stuck to his (OK?) body, clothing, bags and shoes.

If the criminal is later detained for questioning, or is caught pulling a similar stunt, the cat fur might then go to a lab for analysis. Thanks to the new DNA database, researchers can usually tell what general region and population the cat fur originated from. While the data isn’t firm enough to say something like, “This fur came from Miss Fluffy, a calico at X Street in Kansas,” it can help to eliminate individual criminals from the list of possibilities, strengthen existing evidence and identify probable suspects.

Cats Have Already Put Criminals Behind Bars

One of the most publicized cases, Beamish v. Her Majesty’s Court, P.E.I., involved a Canadian murder. “Investigators linked the perpetrator to the crime scene by STR (a certain type of DNA) identification of a single cat hair found in the pocket of a discarded jacket,” report Lyons and her team.

Consider Having Your Own Cat’s DNA Tested
If you keep your cat’s genetic information on file, that can help facilitate any forensics process, should a crime ever take place in your home. DNA tests also can:

  • confirm your cat’s lineage
  • provide additional information about your cat’s family history
  • offer info about your cat’s coat type and color
  • detect certain inherited diseases

Lyons suggests breeders of cats might consider such testing. Persians, for example, can be born with genetic defects that may cause blindness or kidney disease. The DNA information might even one day help to cure similar problems in humans, since both humans and cats are mammals and sometimes suffer from related disorders.

Above all, cats are also “good to have on your lap and just lower your blood pressure,” says Lyons. “They’re good all the way around.”

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

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Posted on April 30, 2012

Cocoa says: Taylor Anne - I am SO glad that Allison was our photographer, no one could have done a more fatiasntc job! I can't believe how Sadie has already doubled in size in a few short weeks, and I will be forever grateful to you for capturing this amazing time in her little puppy life! Thank you for being such a talented, wonderful photographer! It was a near impossible task to narrow down which pictures to get, because they were all so incredible, but that is probably the best problem to have xoxo, TA

Posted on September 11, 2011

Babycat says: An ex friend has 2 cats that pee & poop all over her house. I'm confident that their poop, pee & fur would stick to another criminal.

Posted on August 31, 2011

Jill says: I love my 2 cats!! I wish I had 15 cats! Cats, cats, & MORE cats... You can NEVER have too many cats!

Posted on March 30, 2011

R.A. Ray-Plemons says: Love your post

Posted on January 1, 2011

tdk11 says: I hope this idea takes off. It is impossible to leave a house with cats (or dogs) and not have their fur on you.

Posted on July 12, 2010

Lola007 says: Do you use animals to experiment on for your food?????

Posted on September 5, 2010

study abroad scholarship says:

Posted on June 27, 2012

Alaina says: So.. Pretty much, any-day my cat, Marble, can save my family's lives? He always goes outside, or is sleeping on the table, but it still works right? And what about dogs? Also... I think everyone owes their lives to their pets, so many reasons to... -Alaina 

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