WCU advances in DNA Sequencing

Ashely Dameron working in the DNA sequencing lab. Photo by Calvin Inman.

Ashely Dameron, WCU student, working in the DNA sequencing lab. Photo by Calvin Inman.

If you go to the bottom of the main stairs in Stillwell and take a right as you come out of the staircase, you will find yourself standing in front of the DNA Sequencing Lab. If you walk through the threshold of the lab and look to your left, the GS Junior System will be sitting on the table.

The GS Junior System, a piece of equipment that allows you to sequence DNA, was purchased for the Forensic Science Department of Western Carolina University in 2010.

At the time of this addition, many people in the forensic science world were still a little skeptical of this machine and what its abilities were. After five years it has shown how effective it can be in a forensic science lab.

“We’re in a very interesting time right now in molecular biology because DNA sequencing technology has really come so far in the past couple of years that it is moving at lightning speed,” said Brittania Bintz, a forensic research scientist for Western Carolina University.

The company that originally made the GS Junior system has discontinued it because it has been superseded.

Bintz is showing parts of the GS Junior System to a student. Photo by Calvin Inman.

Brittania Bintz is showing parts of the GS Junior System to a student. Photo by Calvin Inman.

Bintz and Dr. Kelly Grisedale, the Interim Director of the Forensic Science Department and Assistant Professor, both spoke of a device that has all of the abilities the GS Junior System and more. This device is the same size as a thumb drive and can be plugged into a computer.

Bintz went on to say that our equipment has been superseded, but that does not mean that we have an outdated lab.

“Not a lot of universities have the capabilities that we have and to offer those types of equipment that we have to other researchers and individuals in the area would be really neat and really kind of give a little bit of notoriety to the molecular biology sector,” said Bintz.

The technology has brought multiple opportunities to not only the students, but the professors as well. Grisedale and another colleague of hers were invited to go and teach a seminar on DNA Sequencing at the FBI in Quantico, VA.

There are currently nine undergraduate students that are in the lab this semester researching and analyzing certain parts of the human genome. Phenotypic traits or traits that tend to be more common are what they are looking at.

Ashley Dameron is a senior forensic science student that is one of the nine students that are currently researching in the lab this semester.

“Western definitely has high technology to give us good experience,” said Dameron.

Dameron is currently working on a project titled Asparagus Anosmia.

A National Institute of Justice Grant is currently allowing two undergraduate students to prepare for an internship with the Defense of Forensic Science in Atlanta, GA. This opportunity could set up a job for them upon graduation.

“While the idea of moving towards sequencing rather than traditional DNA profiling is on a lot of peoples mind in the in the forensic science community, that’s still not something that has been put in to the crime labs yet,” said Grisedale.

Sarah Cardaci helped with the interviews and development of this story.