Staff in the Department of Analytical, Environmental & Forensic Sciences engage in cutting-edge research that has significant social, economic and cultural impact.
Recent research studies include:
AES Researchers lead study on new fingerprinting
methods for ivory
Example of an elephant ivory tusk covered with fingerprints enhanced using a range of different powders.
Scientists from King’s College London and University College London have collaborated with imaging and fingerprint experts from the Metropolitan Police to validate the use of new techniques for retrieving fingerprints from ivory for the first time.
The findings, published in the journal Science and Justice, could lead to wider use of fingerprinting methods in the field to more easily identify poachers in regions with high levels of ivory-related crime.
Ivory has previously been considered a difficult material to obtain fingerprints from and such techniques have not been commonly used when illegally sourced ivory has been seized despite fingerprinting being one of the oldest, simplest and most cost-effective forensic tools.
Ivory itself is a highly porous, ridged material and fingerprints enhanced with conventional powders have been largely ineffective as a result. This presents a significant challenge for police and forensic experts to develop the level of fingerprint detail required for an accurate identification.
However in recent years, newer powder materials have emerged for fingerprinting. These are composed of smaller particles, which allow for more detail to be observed as they adhere better to smaller amounts of fingermark residue left behind.
The latest study tested three types of powders on three seized elephant tusks loaned by the Metropolitan Police Service’s Wildlife Unit. Those involved in the study compared two of the new powders to a more traditional powder using a variety of tests.
The team found that the newer reduced-size powders were able to provide clearer, useable fingerprint detail that is vital for identifying the donor. Reduced size powders stuck more easily to remaining fingermark residues than the more traditional powders, despite the ridged and porous nature of the ivory surface.
(Left) a 28-day old fingermark enhanced on ivory; (Middle) Electron micrograph of the new fingerprint enhancement powders; (Right) a fresh fingermark enhanced on an unpolished ivory tusk;
The clarity of ridge detail was found to be at its highest within seven days after the print was deposited, suggesting the method would work best in regions of the world that are closest to the sources of ivory.
However, imaging and fingerprint experts were also able to lift some useable prints up to 28 days after they were deposited using the new powder. The researchers also showed its applicability to rhino ivory, hippo teeth and sperm whale teeth.
Study author, Dr Leon Barron, a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science in the Department of Analytical, Environmental & Forensic Sciences at King’s College London, said: ‘This is the first time that fingerprinting on ivory has been thoroughly investigated and a practical solution offered. The only other study carried out over a decade ago simply showed that fingerprints were unstable and that the clarity of ridge detail was low making it difficult to make reliable identifications. Our study has shown for the first time that these newer powders could potentially be used for identifying poachers, and are especially suited to rangers working in the field.’
Director of Forensic Services at the Metropolitan Police, Mr Gary Pugh OBE, said ‘The concept for this work was originally devised by an imaging expert based on his experience at crime scenes. The application has been developed into a viable front line evidence recovery technique through our Strategic Alliance with King’s College London. The equipment required to put this form of fingerprinting into practice is inexpensive and relatively easy to procure, making it a simple, cost-effective forensic tool to combat wildlife crime.
Kelly Weston-Ford and Dr Leon Barron
Kelly Weston-Ford recently graduated with Distinction from the MSc in Forensic Science degree at KCL. Originally from South Africa, Kelly undertook a BSc in Biological Sciences and an Honours degree in Cellular Biology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. She was subsequently awarded a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue her passion for Forensic Science at KCL. Her research project on retrieval of fingermark ridge detail from ivory was one of approximately ten funded projects run annually under KCL’s Strategic Alliance research partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service and who subsequently named her ‘Student of the Year’ in 2014. She has since returned to South Africa and is currently working in the area of molecular diagnostics.
Dr Leon Barron is a Senior Lecturer within the Department of Analytical, Environmental & Forensic Sciences. He co-leads the MSc in Forensic Science programme and is responsible for delivery of forensic chemistry content. He also arranges >30 research projects for these students every year which are often run in collaboration with industry and academic partners across the globe. His research focus is mainly on analytical chemistry and its application in forensic and/or environmental science. Aside from this particular project, he is the principal investigator on several other RCUK, UK Government and industry-funded research projects focussing on, for example, the occurrence, fate and effects of drugs in the environment and trace detection of explosives in fingermarks, soil, water and air.
A soupçon of something toxic may extend your life!
Dr Bedoor Qabazard and Professor Stephen Sturzenbaum
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), typically considered to be a toxic pungent gas, has recently been shown to exhibit cytoprotective, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, vasodilator, and neuromodulatory effects which have been linked to the ageing process. However, given that the monitoring of complete survival profiles in humans is challenging, model organisms such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans can be utilized as valuable surrogates.
C. elegans was used to expand the knowledgebase of this phenomenon by exploring the involvement of exogenous H2S (via GYY4137, a slow-releasing pharmacological H2S donor) as a modulator of the aging process. In detail, exposure to exogenous H2S was shown to extend the median survival by up to 23%. Treatment with GYY4137 also increased the tolerance towards oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and increased the expression of several age-related, stress response and anti-oxidant genes. A key finding was that C. elegans synthesizes H2S endogenously via three H2S synthesizing enzymes, namely cystathionine γ lyase (CSE), cystathionine β synthetase (CBS) and 3-mercaptopyruvate transferase (MPST). Genetic deficiency of MPST reduced lifespan of C. elegans, which could be reversed by supplementation of GYY4137.
Taken together, our results demonstrate that H2S is an endogenous regulator of oxidative damage, metabolism and ageing in C. elegans and provide new insights into the mechanisms which control ageing in this organism. Novel pharmacological agents, based on the principle of H2S donation, may be able to retard the onset of age-related disease by slowing the ageing process.
For more information see:
Qabazard, B., Stürzenbaum, S.R. (2015). Hydrogen Sulfide: A new approach to lifespan enhancement and healthy ageing? Handb Exp Pharmacol. 230:269-87.
Qabazard, B., Li, L., Gruber, J., Peh, M.T., Ng, L.F., Kumar, S.D., Rose, P., Tan, C.-H., Dymock B.W., Wei., F., Swain, S.C., Halliwell, B., Stürzenbaum, S.R., Moore, P.K. (2014). Hydrogen sulfide is an endogenous regulator of ageing in C.elegans. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 20(16):2621-30.
Qabazard, B., Ahmed, S., Li, L., Arlt, V.M., Moore, P.K., Stürzenbaum, S.R. (2013). C.elegans aging is modulated by hydrogen sulfide and the sulfhydrylase/cysteine synthase cycl-2. PloS One 8(11) e80135.
New report - Up in the Air: How to solve London's air quality crisis - Part 1
The Environmental Research Group at King's and Policy Exchange have collaborated on a major new report exploring policy options for improving air quality in London.
Exploration of Health and Lungs in the Environment
The study on the ‘Exploration of Health and Lungs in the Environment’ will help inform public policy nationally and internationally.
The video below was made at one of the project's most recent school visits and shows the health assessments, as well as some of the teaching activities in the classroom.
Exploration of Health and Lungs in the Environment (pdf, 248 KB)
Reducing air pollution in London, combating cardio-respiratory illness, stimulating innovation
The HEI-funded project ‘Reducing air pollution in London, combating cardio-respiratory illness, stimulating innovation’ assisted TfL in choosing the optimal implementation area and vehicle restrictions for the LEZ.
Reducing air pollution in London, combating cardio-respiratory illness, stimulating innovation (pdf, 708KB)