Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/27/2004
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: The authors review and summarized the actual problems that make impossible the use of molecular epidemiology as a forensic tool, in the sense of proving beyond doubt the attribution of a microorganisms to a specific familiar lineage and take the corresponding legal actions against an accidental or deliberated (in the putative case of a terrorist attack) release of infectious agents to the environment.
Technical Abstract: Forensic science is interested in detecting a crime, handle evidences and identify the perpetrator. Microbial forensics has to be able to detect and identify the pathogen but also its source, origin in a scientifically-based unequivocal way that can be used as evidence in court. Modern molecular techniques allow detailed analysis of the genetic code of organisms and sequence polymorphisms allow differentiate closely related individuals. However the amount of genomic data available is still rather limited and restricted to small specific areas, chosen with epidemiological purposes. The economical, infrastructural and social costs of the 2001 UK FMDV outbreak alerted the developed world of its vulnerability against deliberated offenses using microorganisms as biological weapons, and the impossibility to undoubtedly trace the source of this O-PanAsia type of virus. Phylogenetic hypotheses for forensic purposes needs a better statistical support with real-world parameters to measure the critical thresholds for the expression of phenotypic traits. A combination of conventional forensic techniques with knowledge of viral genomics, phylogenetics and informatics, with wide statistical support and enlargement of the genomic data of currently circulating microbial strains are the bases to built the required confidence in the elaboration of accusation, prosecution and/or defense in court theories.