For one Western University researcher, DNA found in pollen grains can provide a fingerprint to determine their precise origin.
Bogumil Karas, PhD, an assistant professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, collaborated with research teams from Emory University (Atlanta, GA, USA) and University of Western Australia to use synthetic biology techniques – the design and construction of new biological entities – in order to develop a method to efficiently capture DNA from pollen grains.
The method is expected to drastically improve the study of pollen and other spores by allowing scientists to rapidly extract minute amounts of pollen DNA and propagate it in yeast or bacterial hosts. This will allow for higher quality of analyses for more detailed information gathering.
Because different plant species are endemic (i.e., native or restricted to a certain area), scientists use pollen to identify their place of origin. In this way pollen can be used as a forensic tool to link suspects to events or crime scenes, or to determine the movement of narcotics, for example.
Karas said the new method would greatly improve forensic analyses that depend on accurate classification of pollen grains.
“Current methods allow researchers to narrow down the origin of the pollen to a country,” he says. “The hope is that with the method we are developing, it should be possible to narrow the region of pollen origin down to a province or state.”
“Most of our experimental designs are inspired by processes that are naturally occurring in nature. We are just trying to make them more efficient,” Karas adds. “We hope to revolutionize forensic palynology.”
The project was recently approved for $503,193 USD in funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – the research arm of the United States Department of Defense.
Project applicants include Bogumil Karas, PhD, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, Berry J. Brosi, PhD, Environmental Sciences, Emory University, Timothy D. Read, PhD, Departments of Medicine and Human Genetics, Emory University and Karen L. Bell, PhD, School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia.
MEDIA CONTACT: Crystal Mackay, Media Relations Officer, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, t. 519.661.2111 ext. 80387, c. 519.933.5944, firstname.lastname@example.org @CrystalMackay
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ABOUT THE SCHULICH SCHOOL OF MEDICINE & DENTISTRY
The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.