Developing and applying mitochondrial DNA databases for domestic cats and dogs

In 2014 we provided evidence in the trial of David Hilder for the murder and dismemberment of David Guy. Jon Wetton demonstrated that cat hairs found associated with the torso of Mr Guy were likely to have originated from Tinker, Mr Hilder’s cat. This evidence supported Hampshire Police's case and helped to secure Hilder’s conviction. The conclusions were underpinned by our creation of a database of UK cat mitochondrial DNA variants under a contract from Hampshire Police that demonstrated the rarity of Tinker’s profile and hence the significant association with Hilder. The case was reported worldwide, and published in the journal Forensic Science International Genetics.

In this case, the police were fortunate that the DNA type was rare, as the great majority of cats share a handful of common types limiting the power of cat profiling in future cases.  After the trial, we used Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) to examine whole mtDNA sequences, which re much more discriminating such that most cats in our database now carry rare or unique profiles.  We have also developed a new method which allows us to detect this variation in a single hair, shed many years previously. Such new databases and methods are a significant advance over current technology and offer the opportunity to revisit cold cases where animal hairs might provide links between crimes or with suspects where previously the connections were merely circumstantial. We have, in parallel, created a UK dog DNA database using the same techniques which we are also using to develop a single-hair profiling method.

This project was also supported by a University Impact Development Fund award to Jon Wetton and Mark Jobling.

We offer cat and dog DNA profiling as a specialist casework service.

Publication: Ottolini, B., Matharu Lall, G., Sacchini, F., Jobling, M.A. and Wetton, J.H. (2017) Application of a mitochondrial DNA control region frequency database for UK domestic cats. Forensic Sci. Internat. Genet., 27, 149-155.

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