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WIREs Forensic Sci

Forensic stable isotope signatures: Comparing, geo‐locating, detecting linkage

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Abstract Stable isotope signatures or profiles of physical evidence such as illicit drugs, explosives or human tissue provide information on source, origin, even sample history not obtainable by traditionally applied analytical techniques of forensic chemistry. The discriminatory power, calculated as random match probability, of multivariate stable isotope signatures able to distinguish two cocaine samples from different regions in Colombia can range from one in tens of thousands to one in several million if based on the stable isotope abundances of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen or carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, respectively. Stable isotope signatures of physical evidence have therefore at the very least great potential to provide invaluable forensic intelligence for intelligence led policing. They may even be of great evidentiary value, especially if corroborated by results from independent analytical techniques. This review aims to offer a glimpse into the fascinating world of forensic stable isotope analysis by discussing the various levels of information stable isotope signatures can provide. For reasons easily appreciated, only a select few instances of its application to criminal investigations have been reported in scientific journals thus far. The various applications of this technique presented in this review are therefore predominantly taken from peer‐reviewed work published in scientific books and journals. This article is categorized under: Forensic Biology > Interpretation of Biological Evidence Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence > Explosive Analysis Toxicology > Drug Analysis
Plot of δ13C, δ15N signatures of 18 amphetamine samples from six seizures. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd, from “Stable Isotope Forensics—Methods and Forensic Applications of Stable Isotope Analysis 2ed.” Meier‐Augenstein ()
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Bivariate isotope profile plot of δ2H and corresponding δ13C values of TATP made from acetone from different sources showing direction and magnitude of isotopic fractionation. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd, from “Stable Isotope Forensics—Methods and Forensic Applications of Stable Isotope Analysis 2ed.” Meier‐Augenstein ()
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Bivariate isotope profile plot of δ2H and corresponding δ13C values of six methamphetamine batches per synthetic route each, synthesized from aliquots of the same precursor. Arrows and isotopic fractionation factors refer to the centroid positions of all batches per synthetic route. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd, from “Stable Isotope Forensics—Methods and Forensic Applications of Stable Isotope Analysis 2ed.” Meier‐Augenstein ()
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Isoscape of δ18O values in tap water across the contiguous USA (top) and isoscape of δ18O values in the carbonate fraction of tooth enamel bio‐apatite throughout the USA (bottom). Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd, from “Stable Isotope Forensics—Methods and Forensic Applications of Stable Isotope Analysis 2ed.” Meier‐Augenstein ()
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Isocapes of cocaine δ2H (left) and δ15N (right) values of Colombia based on 336 authentic samples prepared from coca leafs. Reproduced from Mallette, Casale, Jordan, Morello, and Beyer () under Creative Commons License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
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3D topographical plot of similarity level between sample pairs based on HCA of 60 benzocaine sample (for sake of clarity results are shown for 10 samples only). Sample m is compared to sample n for all possible combinations meeting the condition m ≠ n. Case samples #1 and #2 are similar at a level of 93% but not related to case samples #4 and #5 which are similar at a level of 95%. Known to be identical control samples #9 and #10 are 91% similar
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PCA scores plot for principal components t[1] and t[2] of a multivariate stable isotope data set of 60 benzocaine samples, case samples and controls (for sake of clarity not all data points are labeled). The first and second principal components account for 64.29 and 26.27%, respectively, of all variability in the data. The large ellipse represents the 95% confidence interval based on Hotelling's T2
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Toxicology > Drug Analysis
Forensic Biology > Interpretation of Biological Evidence
Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence > Explosive Analysis

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