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New DNA Technology: Sperm Paint - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

New DNA Technology: Sperm Paint

Reported by David Douglas
August 14, 2007

The science of collecting evidence from rape victims is being expanded at the University of Virginia. The technology is called “Sperm Paint.” This revolutionary new technology could help police solve rape cases that previously had to be tossed aside due to a lack of evidence.

"It's a new approach to the identification of sperm in sexual assault evidence," said Dr. John Herr.

Herr adds that developmental biologists at UVA are hoping to solve more sexual assault cases.

"It will more rapidly allow a forensic practitioner to analyze sexual assault evidence, and have the sperm just jump out of them as a fluorescent image out of a dark background,” he said.

Even for an expert with detailed images, it could take hours, and a lot of luck to find one sperm prosecutors can count on in court. But blue light makes the process easier.

"Right now, when the technician is looking at a sample from a rape kit, they need to be able to find an intact sperm, so even if they can find a head and a tail right next to each other, it doesn't count,” said Liz Alfson, a second year medical student at UVA.

That's because sperm cells break apart quickly, and without the intact cell, before now there's been no way to prove a smaller part came from the whole.

"With sperm paint, what we could do, is be able to say that that tail, all by itself counts, because we know that protein by itself, doesn't exist anywhere else in the body, said Alfson."

What's even better is that since sperm breaks down over time, many cases are lost because victims are too traumatized to go the hospital only hours after an attack.

But now, even days later, sperm can be definitively identified.

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