Research paper| Volume 23, P240-247, July 2016

DNA transfer during laundering may yield complete genetic profiles


      • DNA from semen or vaginal secretions can transfer among items during laundering.
      • Both sources may transfer enough DNA to yield complete genetic profiles.
      • Even with no sexual event DNA from both parents was found on their children’s panties.
      • A framework for the handling of intrafamilial sexual abuse cases is proposed.


      In a number of child sexual abuse cases, the alleged perpetrator is a member of the nuclear family. In those cases, there is a possibility that the suspect’s DNA was innocently deposited onto the child’s clothing without acts of sexual assault ever occurring, for example via secondary transfer within the washing machine. To assess the quantity and quality of DNA that may be transferred among clothing during laundering, we conducted three series of experiments. First, we evaluated the level of spermatozoa that may be transferred by washing pristine pairs of underwear with bed sheets containing a varying number of ejaculates. Secondly, we explored whether current genetic methods may also detect the transfer of DNA from vaginal secretions during a machine wash. Finally, we analyzed the background levels of DNA on children’s underwear collected from control families where sexual abuse never occurred. For both spermatozoa and vaginal secretions, we revealed that sufficient amounts of DNA may transfer onto laundered clothing to yield complete genetic profiles. Furthermore, DNA from relatives living within the same household was found in most cuttings taken from control children’s underwear. Based on these findings, we present a framework for the handling and interpretation of intrafamilial sexual abuse cases. These suggestions should help determine whether DNA was deposited directly onto a fabric or merely transferred during a wash.

      Graphical abstract


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