M.S. in Forensic Biology

Overview

The University at Albany, in partnership with the New York State Police, offers a Master’s Degree in Forensic Biology. With the rapid development and advances in modern molecular biology as well as the precision and accuracy required for the field, forensic science agencies are using state-of-the-art technology for DNA identification and kinship analysis, as well as missing persons and mass disaster casework.

Since 2003, we have graduated over 100 students from our M.S. in Forensic Biology program with the overwhelming majority of graduates employed as full-time forensic scientists in public or private accredited laboratories. We expect this hiring trend to continue since the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected employment of forensic scientists to grow 27 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Recent Additions

We currently educate and train our students using the Applied Biosystems (ABI) 7500 Real-Time PCR System, a 3130XL Genetic Analyzer and GeneMapper® ID Software.

Recently, the Department of Biological Sciences hired two full-time faculty to instruct the required and elective forensic science coursework. We have also received funds to expand our hands-on training in forensic chemistry and toxicology, trace and pattern evidence, and instrumental and biochemical analysis. You will complete your experiments with the same methodology and instrumentation commonly used in today’s accredited forensic science laboratories.

For example, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometer, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, headspace chromatography, immunoassay, and liquid and solid phase extraction will be used to forensically analyze and interpret drug chemistry and toxicological substances; whereas you will perform DNA profiling with the recently released Applied Biosystems SeqStudio Genetic Analyzer and mixture analysis through GeneMapper® ID-X Software.

Careers

The program's strong emphasis on the theories and current techniques in forensic biology is designed to prepare you for a scientific career in various forensic science and conventional analytical laboratories. The overwhelming majority of our graduates have been successfully hired as forensic scientists by agencies throughout the world. Some of our graduates were promoted recently as laboratory supervisors or directors; others have gone on to complete a doctoral or law degree.

As a newly hired forensic scientist in an accredited forensic science laboratory, you will normally have to undergo a background check. Depending on the agency or laboratory, the background check may include a polygraph exam, fingerprinting and drug screening.

Applications are submitted through the Office of Graduate Education and are reviewed when completed. Since a limited number of slots are available, the later the application the less likely it is to receive full consideration. No applications for the Fall semester are considered after August 1.

More information about the program can be found in the University at Albany Graduate Bulletin.

Current Forensic Science Research Projects

  • Rapid Identification of Toxic Plants and Fungi

Individuals can become deathly ill by ingesting toxic plants and various mushrooms. The normal course of action today in identifying a potential toxin is to employ DNA sequencing technology. Current DNA sequencing methods require a minimum of two days to process a sample. Students enrolled in UAlbany’s Forensic Biology program have initiated several procedures to extract small molecules with the possibility of identifying toxic mushrooms. This method utilizes gas chromatography – mass spectrometry (GC-MS) of which is capable of detecting low levels of toxins within one hour. The GC-MS toxin results will then be confirmed by DNA sequencing. This project expands on current techniques used in Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Toxicology and Forensic DNA analysis.

  • Extraction and Identification of Alkaloid Compounds in Plant Material

Datura stramonium, known by the English names jimsonweed or devil's snare, is a plant in the nightshade family. Extracts from Datura stramonium have been used to disorient victims in the commission of a crime. Unfortunately, testing of these compounds have not been established in the US Forensic Science Laboratories. These compounds remain unscheduled by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), but they need to be tested and identified with the possibility of someday being included in the Drug Enforcement Databank. To date, we have established new methodologies that may provide the Forensic Science community a means to identify these compounds.

  • An Internal Validation of the SeqStudio Genetic Analyzer using the AmpFLSTR™ Identifiler Plus kit.

This project tested parameters such as precision, reproducibility, and sensitivity using the brand new SeqStudio genetic analyzer. Internal validations on new equipment, kits and methods are routinely carried out in forensic laboratories for quality assurance (QA) purposes.

  • Identification of Contaminants in Biological Substances

Students have collected biological samples in the Capital District area to study perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This project offers students an in depth understanding of chemical extractions, DNA sample preparation, DNA sequencing, concentration determination, and detection of low levels of organic compounds. These principles are important in Forensic Toxicology and Forensic Chemistry as well as Forensic Biology, and the project for the first time established levels of toxic PFOA in non-human wildlife species.

  • Forensic Identification of Fly Larvae

Fly larvae offer investigators the opportunity to determine the time of death for expired individuals. However, this determination often requires an experienced entomologist to characterize the species of the larvae. We have used common Forensic Science methodology to process and extract chemicals from fly larvae in order to identify the species. The rapid identification method challenges students to expand on existing chemical protocols as well as using DNA barcoding to identify maggots and eggs recovered from decomposing meat. Results will shed light on distribution of forensically important blowfly and beetle species in upstate NY.