Finding Lost Identities

Tiffany Jiang (Photo by Michael Clements)Tiffany Jiang, a second-year student from UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science is helping to determine identities that were lost before she was born. Under the guidance of Teresa Golden, chemistry professor and director of UNT's forensic science program, Jiang is using bone powders to one day help examine ancient remains that have been contaminated by heavy metals. By examining the structure of her bone samples, she hopes her work will help collect DNA that otherwise would have been uncollectable or only collectable in small amounts.

"Since ancient DNA depends on DNA extraction from bone and teeth, maximizing the yield of DNA from old samples of bone is crucial," Jiang says. "However, aged bone can be contaminated by nearby heavy metals like copper buttons or lead coffins, and the presence of metal ions in bone's crystal structure can make DNA extraction from aged bone difficult."

This obstacle is exactly what Jiang hopes to overcome. Through her analysis Jiang will compare the X-ray patterns of pure hydroxyapatite – a material found in bones and teeth – and contaminated hydroxyapatite to determine the changes the metals make on the bone's cell dimensions, cell volume and atom placement. This research will help faculty and student researchers at the UNT Health Science Center identify remains from past wars and from other countries.

"So far, we've successfully electrochemically-made hydroxyapatite at various pH levels and identified the phases present by its X-ray pattern." Jiang says. "Our next step is to dope, or contaminate, pure hydroxyapatite with common heavy metals at specific concentrations and analyze those samples."

Jiang says TAMS has helped steer her course for a future in the sciences.

"Conducting research at UNT has been an immensely enriching experience," Jiang says. "I've always been drawn to the sciences, and researching at TAMS has helped me discover new ambitions. "

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