The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) was recently awarded a two-year, $962,500 award from the United States Department of Justice to help design and build an open-access microbiome database for the forensic science community. The Forensic Microbiome Database (FMD), the first of its kind in the forensic community, will be populated with several thousand microbiome datasets and associated metadata available from the public domain. The database will be based on established procedures for database development designed at the JCVI, incorporating expansive sets of data and metadata that relate to forensic evidence.
The JCVI team will develop written standards for quality control of the data and the procedures to be used for data entry. The research team comprises Principal Investigator Rhonda Roby, Ph.D., co-Principal Investigator Lauren Brinkac, M.S., Karen Nelson, Ph.D., and Shibu Yooseph, Ph.D.
The JCVI team will also sequence and populate the database with 1,000 microbiome samples obtained from five distinct regions worldwide. Sequence signatures from paired stool and oral samples will be compared to their geographic origins to evaluate the ability to “geosource”. Geosourcing will be studied for its potential use as investigative leads for law enforcement personnel.
In addition to being the first of its kind database, the goals of this research are to: provide a host location and continuous monitoring of the database; define well-structured standard operating procedures for data generation and searching against and uploading data into the FMD; and test the utility of the FMD by sequencing a range of samples obtained geographically for querying and proof of concept against the database. The foundation of this project will serve for future enhancements of the FMD and utility for forensic casework. The research team expects this will become the community resource for analysis of microbiome data and for attributing weight to microbial forensic evidence.
According to Dr. Roby, “The forensic community has not yet fully adopted nor implemented the routine use of microbiome analysis in casework. At JCVI we have extensive experience in microbiome research, including publishing the first study in 2006, and in building open source databases. Our insight will help the forensic community move this analysis to the next level. This grant and the results from it will be an important step in making microbiome data an integral part of forensic science.”