New Spray can Detect Fingerprints in Ten Seconds

A UK-Chinese team of scientists developed a biocompatible fluorescent spray from a jellyfish protein.

Forensic investigations have long relied on fingerprint analysis as a crucial tool in solving crimes. However, the methods used to detect latent fingerprints (LFPs) have often presented challenges, from toxicity to environmental damage. In a groundbreaking development, scientists at Shanghai Normal University (China) and the University of Bath (UK) have collaborated to create a revolutionary solution – a biocompatible fluorescent spray that detects fingerprints in just ten seconds.

Traditional methods for detecting fingerprints have often involved toxic powders or environmentally damaging solvents. However, the newly developed water-soluble fluorescent spray marks a significant advancement in forensic technology. The spray, comprising two distinct dyes – LFP-Yellow and LFP-Red – binds selectively to the negatively-charged molecules in fingerprints, emitting a fluorescent glow visible under blue light. What sets this innovation apart is its biocompatibility, derived from a fluorescent protein found in jellyfish, ensuring it doesn’t interfere with subsequent DNA analysis.

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(A) Actual color fluorescent photographs of LFPs on different substrates developed by spraying with an aqueous solution of LFP-Red, Control-Red, LFP-Yellow, and Control-Yellow, respectively. The images were taken by using our photographic system. The concentration of the dyes is 100 μM, and the irradiation wavelength was 445 nm. (B) Chemical structures of the LFP-Red, Control-Red, LFP-Yellow, and Control-Yellow. (C) RGB color fluorescent photographs of LFPs on different substrates developed using ImageJ to remove the color of the substrates (scale bars: 5 mm, under 445 nm irradiation). Photo: Licensed under Creative Commons. Downloaded from ACS Publications 29 Feb 24

This breakthrough holds promise for safer, more sustainable forensic investigations. Professor Tony James from the University of Bath highlights its superiority, emphasising its safety, sustainability, and speed compared to existing technologies. Moreover, its compatibility with different surface colours opens new possibilities for forensic analysis.

Dr. Luling Wu, also from the University of Bath, explains the mechanism behind the probes’ fluorescence, shedding light on their effectiveness in visualising LFPs. Collaborator Professor Chusen Huang from Shanghai Normal University underscores the technology’s potential to enhance evidence detection at crime scenes, hinting at future collaborations to make the dyes widely available.

The research project, titled “De Novo Green Fluorescent Protein Chromophore-Based Probes for Capturing Latent Fingerprints Using a Portable System,” delves deeper into the science behind the innovation. By leveraging green fluorescent protein chromophores, the researchers have created dyes that exhibit exceptional water solubility, low cytotoxicity, and harmlessness to users. Their portable system allows for real-time visualisation of LFPs, ensuring rapid capture at crime scenes.

The project’s design strategy and synthesis reveal meticulous scientific reasoning behind the development of the dyes, highlighting their ability to capture intricate details of LFPs. The probes’ stability over time and their non-interference with DNA identification underscore their reliability in forensic investigations.

Dr Steve Bleay from London South Bank University, a world renowned fingerprint visualisation scientist and co-author of the Home Office Fingerprint Source Book V2 and other publications said: 

It’s always good to see novel thinking and new chemical approaches applied to the field of fingermark visualisation, and this method could have potential benefits over existing techniques. The hard work will start now – to make it from laboratory concept to operational application requires scale-up, rigorous comparative testing against existing processes and an evaluation of many factors including effectiveness, cost, speed and safety. If the biocompatible spray continues to demonstrate benefits in these tests it could be a useful addition to the ‘toolkit’ of processes available to practitioners’

The evaluation of LFP-Red and LFP-Yellow on various substrates confirms their versatility and effectiveness in revealing detailed fingerprint patterns. Furthermore, their non-destructive nature ensures seamless DNA extraction and identification, a critical aspect of forensic analysis.

The development of biocompatible fluorescent sprays represents a significant leap forward in forensic science. With its potential to revolutionise fingerprint analysis, this innovation promises safer, more sustainable forensic investigations while maintaining the integrity of DNA evidence. As forensic science continues to evolve, collaborations like these pave the way for cutting-edge solutions that empower law enforcement and justice systems worldwide.

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Figure 1. (A) Chemical structures of GFP chromophores developed for sensing. (B) Schematic illustration of the new GFP chromophores designed for visualising LFPs at crime scenes, Photo: Licensed under Creative Commons. Downloaded from ACS Publications on 29 Feb 24

The Team at the Forensic Training Partnership look forward to trailing this new product and testing it in practical training scenarios for subsequent role out on our Initial and Advanced CSI courses in the coming years.    FTP is running their first course on Fingerprint Visualisation in May 2024 in conjunction with London South Bank University.  Please contact us for more details if you are interested in attending. 


  • Nanan Ruan, Qianfang Qiu, Xiaoqin Wei, Jiajia Liu, Luling Wu*, Nengqin Jia, Chusen Huang*and Tony D. James*  De Novo Green Fluorescent Protein Chromophore-Based Probes for Capturing Latent Fingerprints Using a Portable System Journal of the American Chemical Society 2024 Access 29 February 2024 MB

Editorial Team

The team at FTP are highly experienced subject matter experts with successful, practical track records who have distinguished themselves during their long careers. They collaborate to ensure that the best possible training is delivered to their students and ongoing support is offered once the students leave the training environment.
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