University of Leicester cat DNA database to be used for solving crime
The UK's first database of cat DNA is to be published and enhanced so it can be used in future crime investigations.
The database was created by the University of Leicester for a police investigation into the death of a Hampshire man.
Cat hairs were found on a curtain wrapped around the dismembered torso of David Guy on Southsea beach last July.
The DNA database helped convict the cat's owner, David Hilder, of manslaughter last month.
It was the first time cat DNA had been used in a criminal trial in the UK, having previously been used in the US and Canada.
Dr Jon Wetton, who led the project, said: "Any cat owner will know that cat hairs get absolutely everywhere.
"This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the UK are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households."
Genetic fingerprinting was discovered by Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester in 1984.
DNA evidence, analysed by the same university, was used to convict a killer for the first time in 1988, when Colin Pitchfork was found guilty of murdering two Leicestershire schoolgirls, in 1983 and 1986.
As well as being used in future investigations, the cat DNA database could potentially be used for cold cases.
It will be published in a paper in a forensic science journal, late this year or early next year.
'Police were lucky'
Dr Wetton said the database could be enhanced in future to make it more "discriminatory".
PhD student Barbara Ottoloni, who did the lab work for the database, said: "The police were lucky in this case, as most mitochondrial types are common when tested with the technique we used here.
"We would like to use cutting-edge DNA sequencing methods to identify further variation in cat mitochondrial DNA to maximise the discriminating power of the evidence."
Prof Mark Jobling, who leads the lab where the cat database work was done, said: "The current database size is adequate to give a general view of UK cat DNA diversity, but more is always better.
"If more samples were needed, we'd approach the company that carries out veterinary testing on cat blood samples, which processes many cat samples every week."