Rutgers University–Camden Doctoral Student Earns Fellowship to Advance DNA Research

Rutgers University–Camden Doctoral Student Earns Fellowship to Advance DNA Research

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Ed Moorhouse
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CAMDEN — Harish Swaminathan, a doctoral student studying computational and integrative biology at Rutgers University–Camden, has been awarded a prestigious graduate research fellowship from the National Institute of Justice to fund his project, “Computational Methods for the Interpretation of Forensic DNA Samples.”

Harish Swaminathan
Harish Swaminathan, a doctoral student studying computational and integrative biology at Rutgers University–Camden, has been awarded a prestigious graduate research fellowship from the National Institute of Justice.
The award program provides funding for research on crime, violence, and other criminal justice-related topics to accredited universities that support graduate study leading to research-based doctoral degrees. Swaminathan received $34,999.

“I’m very excited and honored to be selected for this award and to participate in research that will have a significant impact on forensic science,” says Swaminathan, a Philadelphia resident.

Swaminathan’s research is focused on finding a way to more accurately analyze DNA evidence at a crime scene. DNA can be found in human cells from blood, hair, and skin. When a forensic analyst takes a DNA sample from an object, the DNA from everyone who had contact with the object is potentially in the sample. 

“The problem that forensic analysts encounter with DNA samples is that in some cases, they are not pristine,” Swaminathan says.

In other words, the clear-cut DNA analysis that leads to a conviction on TV and in the movies isn’t exactly how it happens in the real world.

“It isn’t that simple,” the Rutgers–Camden Ph.D. candidate explains. “Analysts get a sample that includes a mixture of DNA from several people and those kinds of samples — if they contain DNA from three or four people — can be pretty hard to interpret. There is a lot of uncertainty. My work tries to better determine the likelihood a specific DNA match occurs.”

Swaminathan hopes an algorithm he develops more accurately assesses the weight of the DNA evidence.

“The idea is to better distinguish one DNA sample from all of the other ‘noise’ in the sample,” he says. “The ultimate aim is to apply this new method into standard practice.”

Swaminathan received his bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Anna University in India. He is working on this project under the guidance of Desmond Lun, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers–Camden, who encouraged Swaminathan to apply for the fellowship.

“There is so much going on here at Rutgers–Camden and in the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology,” Swaminathan says. “It has provided me with a unique opportunity to be a part of cutting-edge research.”

The Rutgers–Camden Center for Computational and Integrative Biology combines traditional biomedical research with analytic methods to understand how individual biological systems work.

The National Institute of Justice invests in doctoral education by supporting universities that sponsor students who demonstrate the potential to successfully complete doctoral degree programs in disciplines relevant to its mission.

Media Contact
Ed Moorhouse
856-225-6759