How It Works

Fingerprints: Can they reveal your ethnicity?


Fingerprints have long been used by the police to identify missing persons and catch criminals, but only now are we really starting to discover the true range of applications fingerprints really have.

It has recently been discovered that fingerprints can not only reveal your identity, but also your ethnicity. It appears that the collection of whorls, ridges and nooks encode information about an individual’s ancestral background. This is particularly noticeable in the way fingerprint ridges split between people of European and African ancestry.

This finding is obviously useful in an anthropological sense, but could also be a significant breakthrough for the police, helping them to profile suspects more effectively than ever before.


These secondary fingerprint details are often used to prove a partial print belongs to a certain individual


Fingerprints can also reveal drug use

A UK company recently developed a new form of non-invasive drug screening: a handheld device that detects the breakdown products of commonly abused drugs in sweat released from pores in the fingertips.
An image of the fingerprint is taken to create a reference point and treated with a solution containing gold nanoparticles, which stick to the breakdown products of illicit substances. The particles are stained with a fluorescent dye and a second image of the print is taken.

This test is far quicker than alternative methods (it only takes about ten minutes) and it also provides proof that a positive result belongs to the owner of the fingerprint and is not down to sample contamination. Sweat is released from pores in the fingertips and eventually tracks along the fingerprint ridges, carrying with it traces of drug metabolites that gradually decrease in concentration. If the staining of the print is greatest at the pores, it provides solid evidence that the metabolites are being released from the sweat glands of the person being tested.

Being able to detect drug use through fingerprints was a hugely significant breakthrough in forensic science


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Plus, take a look at:

Is it possible to change your fingerprints?

Are the prints on our toes identical to those on our fingers?

Surprising uses of forensic science