Introducing the M-Vac DNA Vacuum

I love introducing you to cutting edge technologies that may turn your reader’s heads and make them turn the page. Forensics has never been a stagnant science. Dozens of researchers are pushing envelopes and making the imaginable come to fruition. One such device is the M-Vac.  This recent addition to the CSI tool kit may revolutionize how we search for evidence and recover DNA that was previously unrecoverable. Vacuums are nothing new to the collection of trace evidence. I need to write a post on the history of the trace evidence vacuum which was introduced at early as the 1930’s.  The M-Vac is the next generation trace evidence vacuum designed specifically for DNA collection.

Forensic scientists have made great progress in the collection, analysis, and turn around time of DNA testing in the last decade. The M-Vac uses a wet-vacuum method to release stubborn cells from evidence like clothing, textured pistol grips, and other surfaces where the samples may be hard to get at with swabs. It uses a DNA-free buffer solution that is applied and then recovered in one step through the application wand. The solution carrying the DNA samples is then deposited in a sterile collection bottle that can be tested for DNA profiles. The wand allows the CSIs to cover large areas and get into nooks and crannies that prove too difficult for swabs. Validation studies have indicated that the M-Vac collects 39 times more DNA than swabbing!

I’ve included a short video below that demonstrates some collection methods. One sampling procedure that wasn’t covered was the autopsy. I’m not sure what possible roadblocks may exist (if any) but it seems to me that this sampling method may prove very valuable in sampling certain areas of the victim’s body.  Imagine sampling the neck in a strangulation case, genitals or breasts in a sexual assault, the wrists or ankles in a body dump where the victim was dragged, or even the victim’s hair. You may also get results from the outsole of a shoe used in a stomping or the hood of a vehicle in a hit and run. As the video indicates, this tech may open up new leads in cold cases as well. The possibilities are pretty endless it seems.

If your next novel deals with DNA evidence you might consider using a device like this. I suspect there are a number of CSIs and detectives who may be unaware of this technology. Imagine their surprise at reading about it in your novel.

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About forensics4fiction

Hi there. Thank you for visiting my BLOG for crime writers. I hope you will find it interesting. I would love to hear your questions and thoughts regarding forensics and criminal investigations. I hope that the information here will help answer your questions or ignite your imagination. I am a retired senior criminalist with 15 years of forensic experience. I have served as the president of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, Rocky Mountain Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and the Rocky Mountain Division of the International Association for Identification. I am triple board certified in forensic related fields and one of only 40 board-certified bloodstain pattern analysts and 80 board-certified footwear examiners worldwide In addition to writing over 60 scientific papers, I have worked as the editor of the Journal of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, been interviewed by and consulted for television, books, magazines, and newspaper articles including documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Posted on June 4, 2013, in The Autopsy, The Crime Laboratory, The Crime Scene and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.


    Fascinating? May I share your post with several writers groups?

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Hi Tom,

    Would this technology (or any other) be effective in collecting evidence from a body and clothing that had been buried in the ground for twenty years, and only recently discovered? Could one discover whether the victim had been raped or not, and by the man who confessed to the crime – or not?

    From your other posts, it appears that a body buried this long in soil would likely have no soft tissue left for testing? But there might be clothing. This new technology looks extremely effective, but I wonder what the presence of soil and a gap of twenty years would have on the quality of any samples obtained. Any thoughts you could spare would be most appreciated!


  3. Hi Gail, unfortunately I think most biological evidence would be lost unless it was sealed in some kind of container like a metal drum. The clothing would also likely be lost if not heavily damaged. You will still find jewelry which may aid in identifying the victim or suspect (if it’s lost during burial/struggle). Hope that helps.

  4. Hi Tom — It helps a lot, many thanks! My hope was that evidence would not be available after so long a time, because the piece I’m writing needs the ambiguity.

    Your blog is really helpful — thank you for writing it and answering questions!


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