A Utah invention is not only helping Utah forensic investigators solve cases it's in the hands of their fictional counterparts, too.
This Wednesday, the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" team will break out the M-Vac to solve the murder of a ghost hunter. But for months, Sorenson Forensics, a private Salt Lake City lab, and the West Jordan police have been working to crack real cases with the modified wet vacuum, developed by Bluffdale-based Microbial-Vac Systems.
The M-Vac picks up a lot more DNA from certain surfaces than traditional methods. It collects 40 percent more from a saliva stain on polyester than a cotton swab, and 88 percent more from a blood stain on nylon fabric, according to the company.
Neither the laboratory nor the police department would comment on active investigations in which the device has been used, some of which are cold cases. But Sorenson Forensics has used the M-Vac in six cases submitted to the company, and at least one shows promising findings, said spokeswoman Cami Green.
Another of the lab's cases had "totally inconclusive" results there just wasn't enough DNA on the evidence, even for the M-Vac, Green said. The other cases are still being processed.
Francine Bardole, senior crime scene technician for the West Jordan police, said she's seeing positive results as well. Bardole expects more agencies will be interested in the technology as it helps close cases.
Some prime-time exposure on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" might help, too. The vacuum showed up in the background of the May 1 episode, "Fearless," and Wednesday, DNA specialist Henry (played by Jon Wellner) uses the M-Vac for the first time in the season's penultimate episode, "Ghosts of the Past."
In that episode, a ghost hunting team explores a slaughterhouse where a now-deceased serial killer had butchered people. But a team member turns up dead, brutally killed in the same fashion. The Las Vegas CSI team suspects a copycat, and Henry uses the M-Vac on toys found at a shrine devoted to the killer in the hope it will lead them to whoever picked up where the killer left off.
Microbial-Vac Systems president Jared Bradley contacted the show and went to Universal Studios in February to demonstrate the M-Vac to the executive producers. He also trained the show's product integration managers on how to use it and added input on how the M-Vac should be written into their scripts.
"They are really careful to use all the equipment on the show in as realistic a way as possible, including having former law enforcement professionals on site, which was very impressive to me," Bradley said. "Needless to say, we are all excited to see how the system is portrayed in the episode."
Now in its 13th season, "CSI" still attracts about 9 million viewers a week as of the "Fearless" episode, according to Nielsen ratings analysis website TV by the Numbers.