The Penn State Forensic Science Program recently signed a corporate sponsorship agreement with Life Technologies to work on forensic DNA research projects for the company. Life Technologies Corporation is a global biotechnology company dedicated to improving the human condition. In exchange for the research, Life Technologies provided the program with instrumentation, software and reagents valued at $350,000 that will be used in the research and as educational tools for students.
Mitchell Holland, director of the forensic science program and associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, said that the agreement has been in the works for a few years.
“We met with Greg Lucier, a Penn State alumnus (class of 1986) and Life Technologies CEO, about three years ago when he was on campus to give a commencement address. Since then, we have been in discussions on the best way to form our partnership to make the Penn State Forensic Science program the best in the country while utilizing Life Technologies’ state-of-the-art instruments and software," said Holland.
The corporate agreement was finalized in late 2011, and so far, two research endeavors that focus on forensic DNA evidence have commenced at Penn State. The first project involves evaluating the Life Technologies Prepfiler BTA Kit, which is used for the extraction of DNA from samples containing a mixture of female cells, male sperm, and male nonsperm cells. The PrepFiler Kit uses uniquely structured magnetic particles with a multicomponent surface chemistry to improve the quantity and quality of DNA isolated from forensic samples. This research could help the advancement of extraction of DNA from sexual assault samples, making it a more effective and efficient method compare to the methods currently used in forensic investigation.
The second project also involves evaluating the Prepfiler BTA kit, but this time instead of using modern DNA specimens, researchers will be testing skeletal samples from Croatia that are hundreds, even possibly thousands, of years old. In 2011, the Forensic Science program established a partnership program with the University of Split in Croatia and appointed an adjunct professor, Dragan Primorac, who provided Penn State with the skeletal samples and will assist with the research.
Forensic science faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students are currently using the tools and supplies given by Life Technologies to complete both projects; the equipment and materials will also be used to demonstrate forensic investigation techniques in undergraduate and graduate coursework.
The instruments provided by Life Technologies include the 3130xl Genetic Analyzer, which is used for DNA fragment separation; and the AutoMate Express DNA Extraction System, which is a robotic DNA extraction system. The software includes GeneMapper ID-X, which is an expert system that allows for the analysis of DNA mixtures. The Forensic Science program also received various reagents, including Quantifiler Duo DNA Quantification Kits, which quantify total human DNA and total male DNA in an extract; Minifiler STR Kits, which are small STR multiplex kits for highly degraded DNA samples; PrepFiler BTA DNA Extraction Kits, which are used in extraction of DNA from sexual assault and skeletal samples; and POP4 Polymer for the 3130xl Genetic Analyzer, which is a liquid sieving matrix for separation of DNA fragments.
Holland said the goal of the ongoing partnership between Life Technologies and Penn State is to “complete the research, publish the results, present the findings, and hopefully provide some valuable resources and information to the forensic science community.” He hopes that both the projects and the partnership will not only showcase the impressive work done by Penn State faculty and students, but also highlight the effectiveness of the innovative tools provided by Life Technologies.
Life Technologies is one of the largest providers of systems, biological reagents and services, supplying scientists around the world in every way that life science technologies are applied. The company aims to improve the human condition by enabling basic research, accelerating drug discovery and development, and advancing scientific exploration in areas such as regenerative science, molecular diagnostics, agricultural and environmental research, and 21st century forensics. Lucier serves as CEO of Life Technologies and as chairman of the company's board of directors. He received his bachelor's degree in engineering from Penn State.