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NCBiotech Grant Enhances WCU Forensic Science Lab

By Jeremy Summers, NCBiotech Writer

Patricia Foley, Ph.D., trains on the new genetic analyzer in WCU's Forensic Science Lab.

The advent of DNA Sequencing has allowed for some of modern science’s most remarkable achievements, including advanced biological research and the sequencing of the human genome.

With the help of the N.C. Biotech Center, Western Carolina University has expanded its DNA sequencing capabilities to enhance research capabilities in its forensic science program.

In February, the N.C. Biotech Center awarded Mark Wilson, Ph.D., director of Western Carolina University’s Forensic Science Program, a $175,000 Institutional Development Grant to buy a genetic analyzer that would help establish a DNA sequencing core facility on campus.

The instrument was delivered and installed in early June. After it was set up and calibrated properly, the program’s professors gathered in the forensic science lab for a day of training on the new piece of equipment last week.

A representative from Applied Biosystems, the company that sold the program the instrument, was present to conduct a session of hands-on training.

The N.C. Biotech Center grant covered the cost of the instrument and the training, as well as the software that goes along with the equipment.

The new instrument, an Applied Biosystems 3500 HID Genetic Analyzer, is a state-of-the-art DNA sequencing tool.

With the addition of this new equipment, WCU’s forensic science program will be able to process a greater number of samples. The instrument also positions WCU’s forensic science laboratory to host research from other science departments on campus as well as from outside institutions.

Foley loads a sample into the instrument.

Additionally, it will allow students in the university’s forensic science program to train on cutting edge technology that will still be prevalent once students graduate and pursue careers in their fields.

“If we’re training students, we want them to use equipment they may use in the field,” said Patricia Foley, Ph.D., assistant professor and forensic scientist in residence at WCU.

In WCU’s forensic science laboratory, students and faculty get one-on-one experience with sample preparation, genotyping sequencing and analysis. The new genetic analyzer will introduce them to the newest methods and technology behind DNA sequencing that will likely be used for many years.

“The grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center for this instrument will allow us to train students on newly-emerging technology for DNA analysis, which will help them easily transition to their careers,” said Mark Wilson, Ph.D., director of the university’s forensic science program.

“We are very appreciative to the Biotech Center for giving us this opportunity,” he added.

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