A new technique that detects DNA patterns in a single strand of hair should help authorities identify crime victims and suspects more objectively, researchers say.

Russell Higuchi, a researcher at the Cetus Corp. who worked with a team from the University of California, Berkeley, said the new hair tests will be marketed to forensics departments at police departments as crime investigation tools.Higuchi said hair is the most easily obtainable evidence for investigators because strands are dropped by both victims and suspects and found at a quarter of all crime scenes.

Currently, investigators use hair to identify crime victims and suspects, but the identification does not always stand up in court because it is based on color and texture, which are subjective analyses, Higuchi said.

"This is a DNA typing system and the readout is more digital, such that you have a pattern of dots or bands that identify the samples," said Higuchi, whose findings were published Wednesday in the British journal Nature.

In addition to helping identify victims and suspects more accurately, the procedure will be able to be used in circumstances where blood identification, requiring the drawing of blood, is forbidden by religion.

In the Nature article, the researchers wrote: "The current identification of hairs is based mainly on morphology (structure and appearance) and has an inherent subjectivity. It should be possible to simultaneously amplify more than one gene from a single sample so that systems can be combined to give a high degree of individual specificity.

"The ability to determine genotype directly promises to provide the forensic hair specialist with objective criteria for individual identification," Higuchi wrote.

Cetus is a biotechnology company based in Berkeley.