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Battelle Applied Genomics Today

Battelle Health & Analytics Newsletter

Featured Expert: Mark Wilson, Ph.D.: Forensics Research Leader

Mark Wilson, Ph.D. Mark Wilson

Dr. Mark Wilson, a noted genomics researcher with decades of experience in forensic science, has joined the Applied Genomics team as a Research Leader. Wilson will lead research and development for Battelle’s next-generation sequencing technologies, including ExactID®, and provide training and support for Battelle’s forensic clients.

Wilson began his career as an FBI Special Agent in 1984. He eventually moved from investigative fieldwork to the Laboratory Division, where he applied his background in molecular biology to trace evidence analysis. His early work with mitochondrial DNA led to new forensic techniques targeting trace and biological evidence such as hair and bone samples. His research project was the first in the U.S. to apply mitochondrial DNA analysis to applied forensic casework. “I’ve always been drawn to forensics. I love using science to its maximum utility and applying it to practical problems,” he says.

Following 9/11, Wilson’s focus shifted to microbial-based evidence, including casework related to toxins, bacteria and other potential microbial threat agents. He worked in the newly formed Chemical-Biological Sciences Unit of the FBI Laboratory until his retirement in 2007. Since then, he has worked in academic settings. Prior to coming to Battelle, he served as the Director of the Forensic Science Program at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC.  In this setting, he has been involved in the development of next-generation sequencing technology, also called Massively Parallel Sequencing, and its application to forensic evidence.

In his new role at Battelle, he will be focused on driving the adoption of next-generation sequencing technologies in crime laboratories. “These new technologies generate much more genetic data and present these data to the analyst,” he explains. “The sheer amount of data has implications for complex mixed samples and limited or degraded samples that are often encountered in forensic casework. These emerging technologies also allow analysts to obtain useful information about ancestry and appearance from DNA samples that do not produce a direct match in a database. By applying these techniques, forensic researchers can make progress on cases that were previously considered unsolvable.”

His future research will be focused on bringing new analytical techniques to forensics laboratories, including work on mitochondrial DNA and microbial forensics.  Some of these emerging technologies may allow forensic scientists to ascertain where in the world a person has been based on the distribution of microorganisms and pollen grains on their skin or clothing.  Wilson also sees potential for applying predictive analytics to forensic work.

Wilson holds a duel B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from Azusa-Pacific College, an M.S. in Biology from California State University, Fullerton, and a Ph.D. in Biosciences from George Mason University.