Berger,C.; Heinrich,J.; Berger,B.; Hecht,W.; Parson,W.; OnBehalfOfCaDNAP;
The popularity of dogs as human companions explains why these pets regularly come into focus in forensic cases such as bite attacks or accidents. Canine evidence, e.g., dog hairs, can also act as a link between the victim and suspect in a crime case due to the close contact between dogs and their owners. In line with human DNA identification, dog individualization from crime scene evidence is mainly based on the analysis of short tandem repeat (STR) markers. However, when the DNA profile does not match a reference, additional information regarding the appearance of the dog may provide substantial intelligence value. Key features of the dog’s appearance, such as the body size and coat colour are well-recognizable and easy to describe even to non-dog experts, including most investigating officers and eyewitnesses. Therefore, it is reasonable to complement eyewitnesses’ testimonies with externally visible traits predicted from associated canine DNA samples. Here, the feasibility and suitability of canine DNA phenotyping is explored from scratch in the form of a proof of concept study. To predict the overall appearance of an unknown dog from its DNA as accurately as possible, the following six traits were chosen: (1) coat colour, (2) coat pattern, (3) coat structure, (4) body size, (5) ear shape, and (6) tail length. A total of 21 genetic markers known for high predicting values for these traits were selected from previously published datasets, comprising 15 SNPs and six INDELS. Three of them belonged to SINE insertions. The experiments were designed in three phases. In the first two stages, the performance of the markers was tested on DNA samples from dogs with well-documented physical characteristics from different breeds. The final blind test, including dogs with initially withheld appearance information, showed that the majority of the selected markers allowed to develop composite sketches, providing a realistic impression of the tested dogs. We regard this study as the first attempt to evaluate the possibilities and limitations of forensic canine DNA phenotyping.
Genes (Basel) 2021 12: