Dear Straight Dope:
This is short and sweet. Can a DNA sample be taken from a booger? If so, has a booger ever been used as evidence? Finally, if a booger is used as evidence, what do they call it? (I doubt you would hear, "For exhibit A, I would like to present a booger.")
SDStaff Hawk replies:
First let’s get one thing straight, Brad. We do the gross jokes around here.
As a forensic biology specialist with almost a decade of experience, I can honestly say this is not the first time I’ve been asked this question. The first time was from a detective investigating a burglary. But I’m not surprised to hear it again from the Teeming Millions.
First of all, I’ll assume that by “DNA sample,” you mean “DNA sample for forensic purposes.” Without getting into a semantic debate about exactly what a “booger” is, I’ll say that yes, a DNA profile probably can be obtained successfully from one of those cheery green nose gobs found on the restroom wall. The DNA wouldn’t have come from the dried mucus itself, however, but rather from the cells lining the nose which the booger came from. Since contemporary forensic DNA analysis can generate a profile from the root of a single hair, if there’s even one nose hair trapped in there, that hair would have enough cellular material on it to analyze by itself.
Forensic DNA analysis can be thwarted by the munchings of bacteria, as attempts to analyze feces can attest. (“Forensic scientist” should not be a career option unless you have a strong stomach or want to go on The Most Disgusting Diet Ever.) However, since a booger is small, it tends to dry quickly and that helps to kill the bacteria and thus preserve the cells. Thank heavens, eh?
I don’t know if a booger has ever been used as evidence, but I suspect it has. This is not exactly the stuff you write up and publish in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, though, so it’s difficult to look up.
As for what a booger would be called in a scientific report, that would depend on the, ah, creative juices of the analyst. Me, I’d just say “nasal secretions” and be done with it.
SDStaff Hawk, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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