The medulla is the innermost layer of the hair shaft. This nearly invisible layer is the most soft and fragile, and serves as the pith or marrow of the hair. Scientists are still uncertain about the exact role of the medulla, but they speculate that it is primarily an extension that is more prominent in depigmented (grey or white) hair .
Importance in forensics
Human hair is unique in that its medullary index (the fraction of the hair shaft's diameter that the medulla occupies) is very small: generally less than 1/3. Other species will have much larger ratios, usually at least 1/2. The medulla's presence in human hair and its patterns differ both from person to person and from strand to strand on a single person's head. One hair may have an absent medulla while another from the same person may have a complete or fragmented medulla. For this reason, medulla patterns are not very useful as forensic evidence and are typically only used for determining the species of the subject. The medulla contains large amounts of mitochondrial (as opposed to nuclear) DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from the mother to her offspring. As such, mtDNA may be of forensic value.
- James, William; Berger, Timothy; Elston, Dirk (2005) Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology (10th ed.). Saunders. Page 8. ISBN 0-7216-2921-0.