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British cat DNA database helps convict killer

LONDON — Fingerprints are not the only thing killers can leave behind.

A British university said Wednesday that its DNA database of British felines helped convict a man of manslaughter, illustrating how the genetic material of pets can be used by crime scene investigators.

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‘‘This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the UK,’’ said Jon Wetton of the University of Leicester. ‘‘This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the UK are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households.’’

Although drawing DNA from human hair, saliva, or blood samples has long been a part of crime scene investigations, animal material has also provided invaluable clues.

British investigators tapped the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, to identify the cat hair discovered around the dismembered torso of David Guy, 30, who was found in a trash bag on a British beach in July 2012. Detectives matched the hair to a cat belonging to the man’s friend, David Hilder, but because the genetic material was mitochondrial DNA — which can be shared among large number of animals — the strength of the match couldn’t be known.

That’s where the cat DNA database came in.

Wetton worked with a doctoral student to create a repository of cat DNA for the Hilder case. They gathered samples of mitochondrial DNA from 152 felines across England over a six-week period.

There was a host of additional evidence — including traces of Guy’s blood discovered at Hilder’s residence — and it was enough to secure the 47-year-old’s conviction.

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