A bombmaker’s identity can be traced from DNA left on bomb fragments after an explosion. This will make it easier for terrorists to be brought to trial. When researchers set up an experiment to see whether DNA could be detected on exploded bomb fragments and matched to a suspect, they found traces of DNA on one in five bombs.

Kelly Esslinger and Heather Spillane asked ten subjects to handle one metal and one PVC pipe bomb each. After storing the bombs for a month in sterile bags, they exploded them in shallow holes covered with earth and a large rock and then collected fragments from them. They used DNA fingerprinting and found that four of the 20 bombs had enough DNA on fragments for identification. They could identify some DNA material from five others, but not enough for a definite match.

Esslinger says she could have used this technique to identify the bomber who planted 18 pipe bombs in mailboxes in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Colorado in May 2002, if police hadn’t caught up with him so quickly. She says, “Had he still been at large, DNA is something they should have tried.”

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