Toenails as an alternative source material for the extraction of DNA from decomposed human remains

Andrew Schlenker, Katelyn Grimble, Arani Azim, Rebecca Owen, Dadna Hartman

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11 Citations (Scopus)


The DNA identification of decomposed human remains for coronial investigations at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine routinely requires the retrieval and processing of a bone sample obtained from the deceased. Bone is a difficult sample type to work with as it requires surgical removal from the deceased, refrigerated storage, and additional processing steps prior to DNA analysis in comparison to other samples types such as buccal swabs or blood stains. In an attempt to overcome the issues posed by bone, a DNA extraction method utilising toenails as an alternate source material was optimised and trialled. Two DNA extraction methods were optimised for digestion of toenail material, with the method utilising the QIAGEN DNA Investigator Kit selected for a casework trial. Single source DNA profiles, matching those of the conventional samples taken, were obtained for toenail samples collected from 28 of 30 coronial cases available for this study. Of these, 26 toenail samples produced full profiles. Although the overall DNA profile quality from the toenails was less than that of the conventional sample, the profiles from toenails met the reporting requirements for identification. Based on the results obtained, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine will be implementing toenails as the primary sample type for collection from decomposed remains when blood is not a suitable sample type.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalForensic Science International
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Decomposed human remains
  • DNA profiling
  • DVI
  • Forensic biology
  • Human identification
  • Toenail

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