Former Research Group Members

Sidney Gaston-Sanchez (2017-2019, Master’s)

Hi! I’m Sidney Gaston Sanchez and I’m originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I completed my undergraduate degree in Integrative Physiology and Neurobiology at North Carolina State University. I was a graduate student in the Forensic Science Master’s program (Bio track). In my spare time I like reading, traveling, cuddling with my dog, Aria, and spending time with my friends and family.

I worked on a research project involving a repair “cocktail” of enzymes that could potentially reconstruct damaged DNA back to its original state. In the coming semester, I’ll be exploring my research interests in repair and other aspects of DNA.

I’m currently working at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Dover, DE (AFDIL) with Jamie (see below) and many others from Penn State!! 🙂

Samantha Jarvis (2017-2019, Master’s)

Hi, I’m Sam and I’m from Long Island, New York. I graduated with a B.S. in chemistry and a minor in molecular and cell biology from the University of Connecticut. I earned my Master’s of Professional Studies in Forensic Science in the chemistry track at Penn State. In my free time I enjoy kickboxing, reading, and going to the beach.

My project was a joint project with Dr. Dorman’s lab exploring the microbial and chemical profile of soil samples from various locations around State College with the goal of being able to differentiate between the different locations.

I’m currently working at the NYPD crime laboratory.

Rachel Bonds (2016-2018, Master’s)

Hello! My name is Rachel Bonds and I am from Saline, MI. I graduated in 2015 with a B.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan. Go Blue! I was a graduate student in the Penn State Forensic Science Program (Biology track). I chose Penn State because of the well-rounded curriculum and because the professors are very personable. In my free time I enjoy reading, playing my violin, hanging out with friends, playing with my cat Pepper, and running half-marathons.

I worked on the DNA damage grant with the NIJ. The first part of my research project focused on modeling oxidative damage through the identification and characterization of lesions using active damage and comparing that to an assessment of mitochondrial DNA damage on bullet cartridge cases. Characterization was accomplished through an NGS approach using the Illumina MiSeq.

I’m currently working at the TX DPS crime laboratory.

Jamie Gallimore (2015-2017, Master’s)

Hi, I am from San Jose, CA. I graduated from San Jose State University with a B.S. in Chemistry concentrating in biochemistry. I chose Penn State’s Forensic Master’s Program because of the well-rounded curriculum and genuinely helpful and supportive department. In my free time I read novels and comics, watch movies, and study ancient Egypt.

The first part of my project compared different mtDNA extraction methods from hair using qPCR; which I developed from scratch. The second part of the project used the extraction method that gave the best qPCR results and analyzed heteroplasmy rates in mtDNA from hair shafts from different regions of an individual scalp. The project findings should give the forensic community a better understanding of the weight of observing heteroplasmy in hair samples when considering individual identification.

I’m currently employed by AFDIL where I’ll be working on the identification of U.S. military service members from previous conflicts! 🙂

Elena Zavala (2015-2017, Master’s)

Hello! My name is Elena Zavala and I am originally from Seattle, Washington but have most recently been living in California. I graduated from Santa Clara University in 2010 with a B.A. in music and a B.S. in Biochemistry.  I decided to return to school in order to continue towards my goal of working to apply forensic science techniques to international human rights cases. A key component of this work is the application of next generation sequencing (NGS) in identification of missing persons and human remains. The opportunities to do research in this area and the hands-on nature of the program is what led me to Penn State.

My research focused on the extraction and recovery of small fragments of nDNA to be used for SNP analysis using an NGS approach. The findings should improve the capacity for investigators to identify damaged and old skeletal remains.

I’m currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany where I’m studying methods for the analysis of ancient skeletal remains! 🙂

Graduation 2017!  Elena is first on the left and Jamie is third from the right.

Emmy Demchak (2016-2018, B.S. with Honors)

Hi, I’m Emmy Demchak and I am from Philipsburg, PA. I graduated from Penn State and the Schreyer Honors college majoring in Forensic Biology. I am beyond lucky to have found an amazing opportunity with this lab to work with, and learn from, such talented, experienced, and driven individuals. In my free time I enjoy playing with cats, crocheting, and singing.

I am currently working in a research laboratory in the Lancaster, PA area.

Jillian Baker (2015-2017, B.S.)

Hi! My name is Jillian Baker and I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. I graduated from Penn State with a B.S. degree in Forensic Biology with a minor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Penn State’s undergraduate forensic science program was the perfect fit for me because it allows for the opportunity to work with and learn from dedicated and experienced faculty who provide authentic insight into the forensic science profession. The summer of 2016 I completed an internship with the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Division’s Biology Unit and observed the lab’s transition from the IdentiFiler PCR amplification system to the GlobalFiler PCR amplification system.

My research was done in collaboration with Maryland State Police Forensic Science Division, as I performed a validation study on their non-differential and differential extraction of nuclear DNA protocols. This validation allowed for an increase in efficiency when extracting DNA in preparation for amplification with the GlobalFiler system.

I’m currently (2017) enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Maryland in Biological Sciences! 🙂

Graduation 2016!  Molly & Laura with Dr. Holland

Molly is currently (2016) enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Penn State University in the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Department and Laura is employed at the Bode Technology Group in Lorton, VA! 🙂

 2015 DNA sequencing group

Laura Wilson (Master’s 2016), Molly Rathbun (Master’s 2016) and Jaclyn Junod (B.S. in 2015) … with the MiSeq Next Generation DNA Sequencer


2015 DNA fun

Who says you can’t have fun in the lab!!?

Dr. Holland with Dr. Jennifer McElhoe (Research Associate), Molly Rathbun (Master’s 2016), Laura Wilson(Master’s 2016) and Jaclyn Junod (B.S. in 2015)

Dr. Holland with Ayano Fox (Master's 2013), Liam Phillips (Master's 2013), Lauren Rothwell (Master's 2012), and Kerry McGinley (Master's 2012)

Dr. Holland with Ayano Fox (Master’s 2013), Liam Phillips (Master’s 2013),
Lauren Rothwell (Master’s 2012)
, and Kerry McGinley (Master’s 2012)

Ayano Fox (Master's 2013), Lauren Rothwell (Master's 2012), Liam Phillips (Master's 2013), and Kerry McGinley (Master's 2012)

Ayano Fox (Master’s 2013), Lauren Rothwell (Master’s 2012),
Liam Phillips (Master’s 2013)
, and Kerry McGinley (Master’s 2012)

Former Student Projects

Sidney Gaston-Sanchez, Assessing the Effects of Hydrolytic DNA Damage on MPS mtDNA Results & Repair of the Damage

Samantha Jarvis, Soil characterization using elemental and bacterial profiles for forensic applications

Emmy Demchak (UG), Rate of mtDNA Heteroplasmy in Different Population Groups

Rachel Bonds, Assessing the Effects of Oxidative DNA Damage on MPS mtDNA Results & Repair of the Damage; Application to Cartridge Casings and Projectiles (publication)

Madeline Crowley (UG), Molecular Age Estimation via Assessment of mtDNA Deletions & Rates of mtDNA Heteroplasmy

Jamie GallimoreAssessing heteroplasmic variant drift in the mtDNA control region of human hairs using an MPS approach (publication)

Elena Zavala, Recovery of Highly Fragmented nDNA from Skeletal Material and Subsequent SNP-Based MPS Analysis

Jill Baker (UG), Optimization of First Round Amplification for the Promega PowerSeq 10-Plex & The Impact of Using a Proofreading Enzyme on PowerSeq 10-Plex Analysis AND Evaluation of Protocol Modifications Intended to Improve the Laboratory Workflow for DNA Extraction at the MD State Police Forensic Science Division

Molly RathbunAssessing the Effects of DNA Damage on NGS mtDNA Results (publication)

Laura WilsonOptimization of First Round Amplification for NextGen mtDNA D-Loop Analysis & Validation of the D-Loop mtDNA Protocol with the Illumina MiSeq (publication)

Erica Pack (UG), A Custom Software Solution for Forensic mtDNA Analysis of MiSeq Data, Undergraduate Research Student AND Evaluation of GeneMarker® HTS for improved alignment of mtDNA MPS data, haplotype determination, and heteroplasmy assessment (publication)

Alyssa Duffy (UG), Characterization of Non-Specific Amplification Products Prior to NextGen mtDNA Sequencing AND Optimization of First Round Amplification for the Promega PowerSeq 10-Plex & The Impact of Using a Proofreading Enzyme on PowerSeq 10-Plex Analysis

Jaclyn Junod (UG), Evaluation of DNA Polymerases for the Amplification of the mtDNA Control Region Prior to Next Generation DNA Sequencing

Alexis Dubin (UG), The Analysis of mtDNA Heteroplasmy Using Next Generation DNA Sequencing: Software Comparisons & Concerns

Frank Wendt (UG), Evaluation of the RapidHIT™ 200, an automated human identification system for STR analysis of single source samples (publication)

Liam Phillips, Reporting Logic for mtDNA Heteroplasmy Using a Next Generation Sequencing Approach

Ayano Fox, Assessing the Ancestral Origin of Ancient Human Remains from Croatian Burial Sites using Mitochondrial DNA Analysis (publication)

Lauren Rothwell, Examining Effects of PCR Conditions on mtDNA Heteroplasmy Detection Using Next Generation Sequencing

Kerry McGinley, Examining Mitochondrial DNA in Human Hair Shafts Using 454 LifeSciences Next Generation Sequencing

Katherine O’Hanlon, Examining Mixtures and Low Level Heteroplasmic Variants in Mitochondrial DNA using 454 Life Sciences Next Generation Sequencing, Master’s Project (publication)

Megan McQuillan, Next Generation Sequencing of Forensic Loci Using 454 Life Sciences Technology, Master’s Project (publication)

Nicole Brauchle, STR Analysis of Nuclear DNA Isolated from Telogen Hair Roots, Master’s Project

Brandon McCollum, A Scientific Assessment of the Zach Witman Murder Case, Master’s Project