HID, HIDden Talent, Caucasian female standing outside in a park
November 16, 2023 | Human ID and Forensics

Young Investigator Lindsay Kotchey

Education and Evaluating Emerging Technologies for Challenging Samples
Lindsay Kotchey talks about investigating the applicability of the FORensic Capture Enrichment (FORCE) panel on alternative reference materials such as hair shafts and fingernails, the rewards and challenges of an educator and mentor and her winning design for the HIDden talent contest.

The Young Investigator Community is an active group within the wider QIAGEN Investigator Community that focuses on forensic scientists who have received their PhD/MSc within the last five years or are working towards a PhD/MSc in a forensics or HID discipline. The New Investigator blog is a place to meet one of these talented researchers in a forum where they can share their achievements and aspirations with their peers, friends and colleagues. Read on to find out what attracted this month’s blogger to forensic science. Share with them the excitement of discovery that sustains a passionate commitment to their work.

This new Investigator blog introduces Lindsay Loughner Kotchey. Lindsay is currently a Forensic Biologist II working at the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE), a program of the Fredric Rieders Family Foundation located in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, USA. The Center conducts research, development and new technology assessment, and delivers educational and training services for the forensic science community and beyond.

Lindsay is also the winner of the inaugural QIAGEN HIDden talent contest where forensic scientists like Lindsay channel their creative side. We asked entrants to let their HIDden talent shine and tell us through their artwork – What does forensics mean to you? 

We asked Lindsay about her winning design for the HIDden talent contest and what it means to her. Lindsay told us that her theme “Science never pauses” encapsulates everything about the field because, really, forensic science doesn't pause. 

Lindsay explained: “We're always going to try to identify who that person is or who left that stain. When I was an undergraduate, I thought we had already discovered everything: CODIS had already expanded to 20 core loci and I thought there's nothing left that’s new and that made me sad. Now I realize I was so wrong because there's so much more genetic information that we can use such as SNPs in addition to the STRs. So, in this design, I really tried to show that we are still evolving as a field and we're trying to apply all the information that we now can get from MPS into forensic science and DNA analysis. Not just from the autosomes but also mitochondrial DNA, Y-STRs, and X- STRs and of course SNPs. We can really use everything the human genome gave us to make an identification.”

1. Tell us about your background and how you became interested in forensic science?

My journey into the world of forensic science has been shaped by a combination of fascination and a deep-rooted desire to contribute to the pursuit of justice within my community. In many ways, I owe my initial spark of interest in this field to the television series CSI. Growing up, I was captivated by the intersection of science and the relentless quest for truth. This led me to earn my BS in biology and MS in forensic science and law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Following my graduation, I spent several years working at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, gaining hands-on casework experience. 

In January 2023, I took the next step in my career by joining the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE). Here, I've had the privilege of building an active research portfolio, delving deeper into the frontiers of forensic biology. Furthermore, my role as an instructor for Master's students at both Thomas Jefferson University and Arcadia University has allowed me to share my passion and knowledge, nurturing the next generation of forensic scientists. 

In essence, my journey into forensic science has been a fusion of childhood fascination, academic pursuit and a profound commitment to serving society through the lens of science. It's a journey that continues to evolve, driven by a passion for truth, justice and the endless possibilities that forensic science offers in making a positive impact on our world.

2. Can you provide a summary of the project you are working on?

Within the CFSRE, our focus revolves around the evaluation of cutting-edge technologies in the realm of forensic science and developing new molecular techniques for forensic applications. One of the main projects that I am leading is investigating the applicability of the FORensic Capture Enrichment (FORCE) panel on alternative reference materials, such as hair shafts and fingernails. This panel targets 5422 SNP markers for identity, ancestry, phenotype, and X- and Y-chromosomal SNPs. In essence, the CFSRE projects aim to represent a forward-looking endeavor that pushes the boundaries of forensic biology. Through collaboration and evaluation, we aim to unlock the potential of innovative techniques and tools, ultimately contributing to the advancement of forensic science and its critical role in the pursuit of justice.

3. Please describe your typical day in the lab.

Every day is truly different. As a researcher and educator, I divide my time between hands-on benchwork and teaching. The CFSRE is dedicated to STEM outreach so some days I may be teaching a serology exercise to middle-schoolers or teaching graduate students how to perform a library for massively parallel sequencing on the MiSeq FGx.

4. What do you find most interesting about your project? Have you seen any surprising results?

Since we are evaluating the FORCE panel on hair shafts, we performed some preliminary experiments to optimize our extraction method. From initial results, we hypothesized that DNA yield was correlated with hair thickness and so we decided to dig deeper into this relationship. Unfortunately, our results did not indicate any correlation, but it was interesting determining hair thickness via microscopy.

5. What are the benefits of your project?

The FORCE panel provides an enrichment approach for forensically relevant SNP markers and a novel kinship SNP set for distant relationship inference. This project specifically highlights how the QIAseq targeted methodology can successfully utilize the FORCE panel to type challenging samples including alternative reference materials. This project, among the many others being pursued by scientists across the world, showcases how SNPs can be a powerful and versatile tool for forensic genetic testing.

6. What are the major challenges faced while working on your project and how do you overcome them?

This project is my first project where I am mentoring a graduate student. While it has been a rewarding experience, it has also brought to light some valuable insights and challenges. I've refocused my efforts on fostering an environment where open and effective communication thrives. This involves taking the time to break down complex concepts, patiently addressing questions and encouraging dialogue to ensure that the graduate student is fully aligned with the project's goals and expectations. Effective communication is not only a cornerstone of successful mentoring but also an essential element of scientific progress. 

As I continue to navigate this project and my role as a mentor, I am grateful for the opportunity to refine my communication skills and contribute to the growth of both myself and the aspiring scientist under my guidance. It's a journey of learning, collaboration, and mutual development that enriches the world of science and education.  

7. Which QIAGEN products do you use and what do you like about the products?

At the CFSRE, we use many QIAGEN products and instruments for research and education. Particularly, all graduate students, college interns and summer high school interns learn how to perform DNA extractions with the EZ1 Advanced XL instrument. It's been very effective. Our current students use it for all our different extractions, such as hair roots, hair shafts and fingernails. We do Pyrosequencing here at the center, so we use the Q48 Pyromark Autoprep instrument and bisulfite conversion. I primarily utilize the MPS sequencing products by QIAGEN/Verogen for all of my sequencing needs. Additionally, we use the QIAseq Targeted DNA Panel for the evaluation of the FORCE panel. I also teach an MPS module to the Thomas Jefferson MS students based on the ForenSeq DNA Signature Prep Kit. Ultimately, the customer service that is provided by QIAGEN is what I like best about the products.

8. Outside of forensic science, what are your hobbies?

My husband and I recently bought our first home, and so we’ve been learning all about homeownership and diving into DIY projects. I enjoy reading, primarily historical fiction, but I’ve been dabbling in the science fiction genre lately. Also, outside of my love for working with genomes, I am an avid collector of gnomes!