Volume 48, Issue 1 (January 2003)
Stable-Isotope Fingerprints of Biological Agents as Forensic Tools
Naturally occurring stable isotopes of light elements in chemical and biological agents may possess unique “stable-isotope fingerprints” depending on their sources and manufacturing processes. To test this hypothesis, two strains of bacteria (Bacillus globigii and Erwinia agglomerans) were grown under controlled laboratory conditions. We observed that cultured bacteria cells faithfully inherited the isotopic composition (hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen) of media waters and substrates in predictable manners in terms of bacterial metabolism and that even bacterial cells of the same strain, which grew in media water and substrates of different isotopic compositions, have readily distinguishable isotopic signatures. These "stable-isotopic fingerprints" of chemical and biological agents can be used as forensic tools in the event of biochemical terrorist attacks.