Continuing our series of showcasing powerhouse women in Defence and Science in celebration of International Women’s Day 2022, we introduce to you Distinguished Professor Lyn Griffiths, Director, Centre for Genomics and Personalised Health, at Queensland University of Technology.
Professor Griffiths is researching the use of cutting-edge DNA technology to identify Australian fallen soldiers’ remains.
For the purpose of this project, 500 families who are descendants of historic missing casualties will be invited to give samples for DNA. Their DNA will go into a newly established DNA BioBank and new advanced technology will be used to extract DNA information from environmentally degraded remains.
The project is being led by QUT and funded by a new $2.2 million Department of Defence Innovation Hub contract undertaken by QUT in collaboration with Defence.
Getting to Know Prof Lyn Griffiths
What are your current roles and responsibilities?
I am a molecular geneticist and the Director of the Centre for Genomics and Personalised Health, at the Queensland University of Technology, which is focused on translating knowledge from genomics research into better health outcomes.
I am currently leading the following key projects, commenced in 2021:
- Australian Defence Innovation Hub focused on the Development of next-generation DNA technologies for the identification of fallen Australian soldiers. This $2.2M centre has been funded by Defence to enable the identification of missing soldier remains. The project will develop next-generation genomics methods to identify soldier remains and also establish a biobank of DNA from the relatives of missing soldiers to enable comparison analyses. We expect our research to not only enable remains identification but also establish a NATA accredited facility to enable the sustainability of the centre for future soldier identification needs to aid in disaster and forensic applications.
- Create an ADF commissioned bespoke short course to train specialised field officers and technicians to collect, handle and process samples for DNA identification and other types of analyses.
The expansion and continuation of our Norfolk Island genetic studies through a new industry associated collaboration. The funding, $1.3M-$1.6M, will facilitate a new 20-year longitudinal collection of NI samples and also enable whole-genome sequencing studies focused on identifying genes associated with chronic kidney disease.
Involvement in Defence Industry
How are your current projects of benefit to the Defence industry and community?
Our project uses next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to generate DNA profiles of recovered remains and compare these to DNA profiles of samples from the Biobank of fallen soldiers’ living relatives.
NGS is a technology that allows human DNA to be rapidly sequenced and to detect variant sequences passed on through generations of related individuals.
We will establish the Biobank and generate both sets of DNA profiles to facilitate the identification of fallen soldiers’ remains. To do this, we will first develop family trees for around 500 missing soldiers so that we can track relatives alive today.
Members of those families will be invited to give a non-invasive DNA sample which will be used for DNA profiling and compared to profiles that the team at QUT will generate from the remains of fallen soldiers accessed with the aid of the Defence.
The QUT multidisciplinary research team is made up of experts in molecular genomics, genealogy, ancient DNA, sequencing analysis and bioinformatics.
Our DNA strategy will use techniques typically applied to extract ancient DNA combined with the newest NGS technology to improve DNA profiling of highly degraded bone.
This will aid Defence to target identification to fewer possible unaccounted service personnel and significantly reduce investigation and identification time.
This technology will not only assist families of fallen soldiers to have closure and confirmation but could also benefit the wider community too.
The technology has applications outside of Defence in assisting and enhancing forensic techniques used in criminal investigations, missing persons, disaster victim identification and archaeology.
Women in Defence and STEM…
What unique perspectives/talents do you think women bring to the industry?
From my experience, I’ve noticed that many women are excellent at team building and facilitating internal and external collaboration. They are also adept and meticulous about supporting and developing the next generation of researchers.
What do you think is the biggest issue affecting women in Defence and STEM today and in the future?
Security of employment is definitely the biggest issue. Many excellent STEMM/Defence researchers have very limited job security via short term grants or research contracts. These are generally highly trained specialised individuals with limited job security and career development prospects.
Additionally, the need to start families and manage the necessary time off associated with maternity and carer leave, makes it even harder to be competitive for limited employment options.
2022 International Women’s Day
How do you think organisations such as QDSA contribute to “Breaking the Bias”?
It’s good to be proactive at encouraging and supporting gender diversity in defence STEMM research. Organisations such as QDSA are also great at creating collaborations that highlight and profile excellent female role models in relation to this field.
Innovative NGS Technology Changing Lives
Professor Lyn Griffiths and her team at QUT are changing the lives of Defence families and the wider community with their use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology in the identification of human remains.
QDSA will be closely monitoring their progress as the use of this ground-breaking technology continues to evolve and grow.
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The Queensland Defence Science Alliance (QDSA) is a university-led initiative to grow and connect an agile Defence innovation ecosystem, leveraging Queensland’s strengths, to deliver trusted solutions to meet Defence requirements.