Next-Generation Sequencing of the Bacterial 16S rRNA Gene for Forensic Soil Comparison: A Feasibility Study*

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Soil has the potential to be valuable forensic evidence linking a person or item to a crime scene; however, there is no established soil individualization technique. In this study, the utility of soil bacterial profiling via next-generation sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene was examined for associating soils with their place of origin. Soil samples were collected from ten diverse and nine similar habitats over time, and within three habitats at various horizontal and vertical distances. Bacterial profiles were analyzed using four methods: abundance charts and nonmetric multidimensional scaling provided simplification and visualization of the massive datasets, potentially aiding in expert testimony, while analysis of similarities and k-nearest neighbor offered objective statistical comparisons. The vast majority of soil bacterial profiles (95.4%) were classified to their location of origin, highlighting the potential of bacterial profiling via next-generation sequencing for the forensic analysis of soil samples.

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