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Research in Action: With New Grant, Penn State Aims to Bring Next-Generation DNA Sequencing to Working Crime Laboratories

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Research in Action: With New Grant, Penn State Aims to Bring Next-Generation DNA Sequencing to Working Crime Laboratories

Jenifer Smith, Professor of Practice in the Department of Forensic Science, is Penn State’s lead investigator on this grant.

8 January 2015

Penn State’s Forensic Science program is a partner on a new National Institute of Justice grant that will test DNA investigative tools that utilize next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology.

Penn State will work in conjunction with the Battelle Memorial Institute, the lead institution on the grant, and six other federal and local laboratories. As the sole university partner, Penn State will be performing evaluations of forensic investigative tools that will expand the capabilities of forensic DNA laboratories.

The more than $800,000 grant will test the feasibility of new instruments, laboratory materials, and software tools in the field of DNA-based forensic science. The study’s aim is to vet tools using next-generation sequencing technology and implement them into working crime laboratories.

Using next-generation sequencing methods will expand and improve upon current methods used in working crime laboratories, said Jenifer Smith, Professor of Practice in the Department of Forensic Science and Penn State’s lead investigator on this grant. “This exciting technology allows for the generation of DNA profiles that can be compared to known suspects, victims, or profiles within state and federal databases while also exploiting new locations on the DNA where single base-pair differences may provide 'investigative information' in cases where no suspects have been developed or discovered.” 

With this grant, the partners hope to be able to get tools that use NGS into working crime laboratories to replace current less informative forensic methods, which have been in use for the last fifteen years. The new technology will increase efficiency in forensic work, and could also help generate investigative leads and identify individuals with only traces of genetic evidence. 

This grant will continue work that the Penn State Forensic Science program has done since its inception in 2005. “Penn State has led the evaluation and development of forensic technology,” said Mitchell Holland, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and former director of the Penn State Forensic Science program.

For more information about research in the Department of Forensic Science, visit forensics.psu.edu/research

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