PULLMAN — Brian Kemp, a WSU faculty member since 2007 with joint appointments in the anthropology department and the School of Biological Sciences, has received a grant of more than $595,000 from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
The research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice has funded Kemp to spend the next two years enhancing testing methods for DNA found in degraded sources, like older skeletal remains or forensic samples.
DNA analysis has become the linchpin for solving cold cases, proving innocence and identifying unknown victims of war, crime and mass fatality accidents, and Kemp believes his research, with its focus on improving the authentication of results, will have an important impact on such testing.
Kemp, who also studies early Native American history by sleuthing out parallels between genetic and archaeological records, has regularly faced challenges in his laboratory when analyzing samples from degraded sources that contain impurities or that have been contaminated by those that handled them. In addition, the amount of chemical damage of DNA molecules increases with time.
“Combined, these problems make the analysis of some degraded specimens difficult, if not impossible,” Kemp said. “It is my hope that these experiments, made possible by the grant, will maximize the future success rate of working with degraded DNA, whether in forensic casework or research that is aimed at better understanding human evolution and population history.”
A molecular anthropologist and ancient DNA specialist, Kemp earned his doctorate at UC Davis. His research was included in Discover magazine’s 2007 list of top 100 science stories and has been published in the “American Journal of Physical Anthropology” and the “Journal of Archaeological Science.”
Kemp, with David Glenn Smith of the University of California, Davis, and a team of California colleagues, recently extracted DNA from a 10,300-year-old human tooth found in Wales Island, Alaska.
They were able to link the genetic pattern found in the DNA of that tooth to more than 40 individuals living today.
This summer, Kemp was in Alaska collecting DNA swab samples from Native American volunteers. He will use the results to learn about genetic continuity of populations in Alaska, their relationships to other indigenous populations and to reconstruct population history.
Bill Andrefsky, chair of the WSU Department of Anthropology, acknowledged Kemp as an outstanding addition to the faculty and said, “His research productivity is excellent, with papers appearing in the most prestigious journals and now with the NIJ grant. … Beyond that, he has been extremely active with outreach and service. He has been working with indigenous populations interested in their heritage via DNA mapping.”