Forensic human identification using skin microbiomes

Sarah E. Schmedes, August E. Woerner, Bruce Budowle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The human microbiome contributes significantly to the genetic content of the human body. Genetic and environmental factors help shape the microbiome, and as such, the microbiome can be unique to an individual. Previous studies have demonstrated the potential to use microbiome profiling for forensic applications; however, a method has yet to identify stable features of skin microbiomes that produce high classification accuracies for samples collected over reasonably long time intervals. A novel approach is described here to classify skin microbiomes to their donors by comparing two feature types: Propionibacterium acnes pangenome presence/ absence features and nucleotide diversities of stable clade-specific markers. Supervised learning was used to attribute skin microbiomes from 14 skin body sites from 12 healthy individuals sampled at three time points over a <2.5-year period with accuracies of up to 100% for three body sites. Feature selection identified a reduced subset of markers from each body site that are highly individualizing, identifying 187 markers from 12 clades. Classification accuracies were compared in a formal model testing framework, and the results of this analysis indicate that learners trained on nucleotide diversity perform significantly better than those trained on presence/absence encodings. This study used supervised learning to identify individuals with high accuracy and associated stable features from skin microbiomes over a period of up to almost 3 years. These selected features provide a preliminary marker panel for future development of a robust and reproducible method for skin microbiome profiling for forensic human identification.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01672-17
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number22
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Forensic profiling
  • Human identification
  • Metagenomics
  • Skin microbiome
  • Supervised learning


Dive into the research topics of 'Forensic human identification using skin microbiomes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this