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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the Epigenetic Profile

Forensic investigators may soon be able to glean more about suspects based on their epigenetic profiles, writes Cath Ennis at the Guardian's Occam's Corner.

Researchers have found that a person's epigenetics is shaped by their age and environmental exposures, Ennis notes. For instance, she points out that the University of California, Los Angeles' Steve Horvath has shown that someone's age can be determined to within a few years based upon their epigenetic marks, though that's influenced a bit by health conditions and race. Similarly, smoking and taking certain drugs like cocaine leave identifiable epigenetic changes, as does exposure to pollutants. All that, Ennis writes, can be pulled together to develop a profile of a suspect that's more detailed that what can be determined today.

She adds that there are still technical to overcome before epigenetics could be widely used in forensics, but Ennis says that those are being addressed and that it's time to consider the legal ramifications of such testing. "Do we want law enforcement agencies and governments to know the details of our personal and family histories, our vices and habits? Can epigenetic evidence be presented accurately by lawyers, and interpreted appropriately by jurors?" she asks.