Among the most important forensic evidence that can be collected at a crime scene are body fluids. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has funded Prof. Lawrence Ziegler and his group to develop a novel detection and identification platform for these fluids based on the optical methodology, Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS).
The purpose of this research is to learn about the fundamental capabilities of SERS for detecting, identifying, and characterizing trace amounts of body fluids as a new forensics tool. The investigators believe that development of this optical methodology will lead to a single instrumental platform for the rapid, sensitive, easy-to-use, cost-effective, on-site, non-destructive, detection and identification of human body fluids at a crime scene. No such platform is currently available for this purpose. The successful development of their SERS technology could be transformative allowing the identification of the type of biological materials/fluids with minimal destruction to evidence samples at crime scene locations or from evidence taken from crime scenes. Due to the sensitivity of SERS, suspected human body fluid samples that may be invisible to the eye (but may be evident with the aid of alternate light sources), may be identified leaving sufficient quantity for subsequent DNA analysis. In forensic lab settings, SERS can be used to identify the original body fluid at the time of genetic analysis. The molecular basis for these characteristic SERS signatures will b determined. In addition, SERS can determine the age of some biological stains and corresponding time since a violent crime. Thus, these SERS measurements have the capability to inform criminal investigation directions prior to traditional confirmatory laboratory testing.
This project leverages the Ziegler group’s expertise developed for other SERS-based bioanalytical applications. At the end of this award period, all the elements for an integrated SERS-based, portable trace body fluid detection and identification platform (sample preparation protocols, spectral reference library, software procedures) will be available for field deployment and testing.
Professor Sean Elliott and his group have received funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science for their project, “Tuning directionality for CO2 reduction in the oxo-acid: ferredoxin superfamily.” Their aim is to provide a unique, molecular perspective on how electron transfer processes are coupled to catalytic processes that can either be oxidations that liberate CO2, or reductive reactions that capture CO2.
Developing catalytic chemistry for bioenergy production requires a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms of multi-electron redox processes, particularly those that transform/capture CO2, producing molecules useful as fuel sources or chemical feed stocks. Understanding the molecular details of how multi electron catalysis can be achieved is a major challenge in modern energy science, particularly in the context of CO2 transformations. While synthetic chemistry addresses the design and implementation of multi-electron transformations through the generation of homogenous or heterogenous catalysts, biological systems, such as plants and microorganisms, use diverse redox-active enzymes to achieve CO2 capture. Such enzymes can be highly powerful catalysts; however, very little is known about their mechanisms of action, let alone how a potential reversible catalyst can be tuned to favor CO2 reduction chemistry.
The Elliott group aims to address this knowledge gap in the context of the enzymatic chemistry of the oxo-acid:ferredoxin oxidoreductase (OFOR) superfamily (see structure above right), which is capable of CO2 reduction. Collaborating with them are metalloprotein crystallographer, Professor Catherine Drennan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Professor Stephen Ragsdale (University of Michigan).