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Felines Fighting Crime With Fur

A recent case counting on the analysis of cat hairs has landed a murderer behind bars in the U.K.

When the remains of victim, David Guy, were found on a British beach in July 2012, Hampshire police were lucky enough to find cat hairs on his body. The hairs belonged to the cat of the suspect and supposed friend, David Hilder.

Many crimes are solved by tapping into the human DNA database. Organic fiber has genetic material, called mitochondrial DNA, which can be used to help link a suspect to a crime. At the time of Guy's murder, however, a cat DNA database was not in existence in the UK.

To help Hampshire police solve the case, Dr. Jon Wetton offered his experience in creating a DNA database for dogs for the Forensic Science Service. Wetton, working alongside doctoral student Barbara Ottolini, created a similar database of cat DNA for the Hilder case.  Over six weeks,  they were able to gather mitochondrial DNA samples from 152 cats across England.

"Cat DNA still has distinctive features," reported Care2. "Each cat hair contains two kinds of DNA, “nuclear DNA” that is specific to individual cats and can be detected in the roots of some larger hairs and “mitochondrial DNA,” which all maternally related cats share and which is detectable even in the finest hair shafts."

The samples taken from cats revealed their age, gender, and the region where they lived. Out of all the samples, three matched Hilder's cat Tinker, whose hairs were found on the crime scene.

"Tinker had a relatively rare genetic make-up shared by a third of cats; the possibilities of accurate matching for the other two-thirds are much more difficult," Dr. Wetton told The Independent.

Even though it was not a perfect match, the evidence was used in court to suggest that the hairs found on the crime scene were most likely from Tinker.

Thanks in part to Tinker, Hilder was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 12 years before he is eligible for parole.

As for the cat DNA database, there are more than 10 million cats in Britain who live in more than a quarter of UK's households. As a result, Wetton believes cats will definitely be helping solve more crimes in the near future.

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