Identifying the biological and geographic origins of forensic samples is one of the central challenges to modern forensic science. For some applications, such as identifying whether imported caviar comes from a legal source, it is important to identify the species that the specimen came from and if possible the population to which the specimen belonged. In other cases, such as tracking the prior movements of a laptop, trace evidence such as pollen samples can be used to identify the geographic regions where an object has previously been. Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology now provide the ability to rapidly generate large amounts of sequencing data at relatively low costs and has the potential to greatly advance the speed, accuracy, and accessibility of forensic sample identification. The symposium will consist of three short lectures followed by Q & A sessions with attendees to discuss the current state of the field, as well as possible future applications and prospects.
Dr. Jennifer Kovacs - Spelman College
Dr. Jennifer Kovacs is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Spelman College, a primarily undergraduate, historically black, all women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. Her lab uses a variety of DNA sequencing technology and methodologies to answer questions surrounding the evolutionary implications of symbiosis and other ecological interactions. She received her Ph.D. in Applied Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she studied the genetics underlying differences between queens and workers in social wasp colonies. During her post- doctoral research, as an NIH-funded teaching and research fellow (FIRST) at Emory University, she studied the role of horizontal gene transfer in arthropod genome evolution as well as the ecological impacts of microbial symbionts on arthropod behavior and evolution. Her work on understanding how horizontal gene transfer produces new ecologically important traits in arthropods is currently funded by NSF. Her recent work has utilized high-throughput DNA sequencing and DNA metabarcoding to identify pollen in environmental samples done in collaboration with CBTIR.
Dr. Karen Bell - Emory University
Dr. Karen Bell is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, in the laboratory of Dr. Berry Brosi. She specializes in genetic methods of species identification, also known as DNA barcoding. Her current research involves method development in pollen DNA barcoding for national security forensics. Pollen is ubiquitous in the environment, making it an ideal marker for determining the geographic origin of objects. Traditional methods of pollen identification require highly specialized expertise, with only a small number of people sufficiently expert. Furthermore, traditional methods are frequently unable to identify the species, and may be slow with large numbers of samples. Recent developments from Dr. Bell’s research will allow for higher throughput and greater accuracy in the analysis of pollen mixtures for forensic palynology.
Piper Schwenke, NOAA Fisheries - Seattle, WA
Piper Schwenke works for NOAA Fisheries at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington. Piper received her Master’s Degree from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences during which she studied genetic introgression between three Pacific Rockfish species in the Salish Sea. Piper has been working as a Forensic Molecular Geneticist for 20 years and has been a certified as a Wildlife Forensic Scientist. Piper was trained and mentored in DNA forensic science at a private crime laboratory in Seattle, WA where she worked on evidence from major crime scenes using human identification techniques. At NOAA, Piper uses a variety of DNA techniques to identify species and population of origin of biological evidence collected during fish and wildlife criminal investigations. Most recently our lab has been using high-throughput DNA techniques to identify origin and species many marine taxa from mollusks to marine mammals.