Applications and Challenges of Forensic Proteomics
Mass spectrometry-based proteomics has been a useful tool for addressing numerous questions in basic biology research for many years. This success, combined with the maturity of mass spectrometric instrumentation, the ever-increasing availability of protein sequence databases derived from genome sequencing, and the growing sophistication of data analysis methods, places proteomics in a position to have an important role in biological forensics. Because proteins contain information about genotype (sequence) and phenotype (expression levels), proteomics methods can both identify biological samples and characterize the conditions that produced them. In addition to serving as a valuable orthogonal method to genomic analyses, proteomics can be used in cases where nucleic acids are absent, degraded, or uninformative. Mass spectrometry provides both broad applicability and exquisite specificity, often without customized detection reagents like primers or antibodies. This review briefly introduces proteomics methods, and surveys a variety of forensic applications (including criminal justice, historical, archaeological, and national security areas). Finally, challenges and crucial areas for further research are addressed.