By Natalie Macdonald
A Perth researcher has found barnacles are able to provide forensic information for evidence in court cases.
Dr Paola Magni from Murdoch University says the environment takes over when evidence is submerged in water, making it harder to identify key details, like victims and the way in which they died.
Aquatic investigation crimes require backtracking information because the ocean’s current and tides can erase evidence.
“It is a disaster. Bodies can be eaten by fish. The evidence will be washed away… DNA, fingerprints… you lose so (much) information,” says Magni.
She believes the field of aquatic forensic crime investigation is lacking research.
Magni describes aquatic forensics as a “time machine” for solving cases and has appeared in court as a forensic specialist in the area.
By using barnacle growth on bodies and other criminal evidence, Magni is able to determine roughly how long the evidence has been submerged.
Forensic scientists are able to determine details of a death from the way different barnacle species react with various types of materials and surfaces.
Honours student Abrar Essarras has researched alongside Magni specifically on how acorn barnacles can be used in aquatic investigation.
Essarras will soon be presenting on the topic of barnacle colonisation on human items at an upcoming poster session.
Natural materials (like cotton and silk) are harder for barnacles to attach to, so forensic scientists speculate that natural fabrics would have to be in the water for longer periods of time than artificial fabrics like neoprene and lycra.
Magni is passionate about her field and headed to Britain in early June to represent Australia in the final of FameLab, a global science competition.
At FameLab she’ll be talking about how different clothing materials are affected by barnacle growth.
She hopes to educate young STEM researchers attending at the FameLab convention as audience members by way of the mentor program.