Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is investigating whether terrorists can be identified by the skin proteins they leave behind on bomb components even after detonation.

Known as the Proteos program and part of the Lab’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the research focuses on whether forensic analysis can reliably identify unique genetically variable peptides (GVP) in skin cells following an explosion.

“If forensically relevant information in shed skin cells survives conditions that compromise or destroy other evidence, such as latent fingerprints or DNA, this technology could be a game-changer in post-blast investigations,” explained Deon Anex, principal investigator for the Proteos program.

Researchers from the LLNL’s Global Security and Weapons Complex Integration teams recently detonated 26 explosive devices with various metal and wood components that had been handled by volunteers and will now attempt to identify the “peptide mass fingerprints” using analytical chemistry.

“It has been shown that patterns of GVPs can be used to identify individuals,” Anex said. “The big question now is whether that information survives harsh environments such as explosions.”

The genetically variable peptide technology developed by LLNL could be expanded to identify victims of fires, explosions, or downed aircraft.