Scholars Week University Presentation Showcase: Making Sense of Touch DNA

Published on April 06, 2022

Like many of us, Beighley Ayers’ fascination with forensic science came through her television screen. After watching shows that portrayed strong female lead characters such as the former ABC television drama Body of Proof, she became interested in how science can solve complex mysteries. This fascination led her to Eastern Kentucky University, where she knew she would be able to study with some of the leading researchers in the field today. 

Working with professors Dr. Jamie Fredericks of the Department of Forensic Science and Dr. Michael Lane of the Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Ayers’ research focuses on a relatively new aspect of forensic science, called touch DNA. Touch DNA refers to the biological material thought to be left behind when an individual comes into contact with an object. Not just fingerprints, but skin cells that shed during contact. The goal of the study is to determine whether the amount of DNA collected from mock assaults correlates with the force applied during that assault. 

Ayers will join more than 100 other students displaying their research during the annual Scholars Week University Presentation Showcase, held Wednesday, April 13 from 2:30 until 4:15 p.m. in the Keen Johnson building. Ayers is a senior forensic science major with a concentration in biology from Wheeling, West Virginia.

“We were expecting some association between the concentration of DNA collected from a single strike with the force applied, contact time and impulse,” Ayers said. “The data did not support our hypothesis. However, this still provides valuable input to this type of evidence.”

One valuable piece of information the researchers learned was that the sequence of strikes from two different participants can be determined, perhaps allowing the ability to determine the sequence of events in an assault case.

Ayers said that more research needs to be conducted to further determine how force plays a role in the amount of Touch DNA transferred. 

“Currently, there is limited amount of research available on touch DNA, so this information adds to the minimal research available,” she said. “Further research could strengthen our findings or even indicate new information.” 

After graduation in May, Ayers plans to attend Towson University to earn a master’s in forensic science. She hopes to continue her research and land an internship at a crime laboratory, government agency or police department. Eventually, she wants her career to focus on bloodstain pattern analysis, DNA profiling, pathology or crime scene investigation.