Young Investigator Adam Staadig
April 20, 2021 | Human ID and Forensics

Young Investigator Adam Staadig on forensic genetics

The Young Investigator Community is a forum for young forensic researchers and graduate students to share their achievements and aspirations with peers, friends and colleagues. Each new Investigator blog is a personal introduction to one of these talented researchers. Read on as they share what first drew them to forensic science and explain what sustains their passionate commitment to their work.

This new Investigator blog introduces Adam Staadig, a Ph.D. candidate and analyst working in Sweden’s National Board of Forensic Medicine. The National Board of Forensic Medicine is an expert authority within the judicial system providing analyses and assessments by chemists, biologists, doctors, psychologists and counsellors to ensure a consistent level of expertise throughout Sweden.

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

I was born and raised in a small town in Sweden. When it was time for university studies, I decided to apply to the Master of Science program in chemical biology at Linköping University. I began my university studies in 2011 and moved to Linköping, which could be seen as Sweden’s “capital town of forensic sciences”.

I have always been interested in human biology and it is fascinating to understand and learn the cellular mechanisms. I also have a strong will to bring justice to society. The forensic field offers the combination of technical and biological challenges with direct applications to individual stories in the judicial system. After completing my Master’s thesis at the National Board of Forensic Medicine in Sweden, I realized that forensic genetics truly is something for me. I worked with massively parallel sequencing (MPS) data and focused on applications to forensic kinship investigations. After my degree, I was given the chance to stay at the National Board of Forensic Medicine as a biochemist, and in 2019 I was offered a Ph.D. position which I happily accepted.

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

My Ph.D. project is about increasing the information and precision in forensic genetic investigations, more precisely focusing on kinship investigations and missing person identification. I have just completed my first subproject on evaluating a custom made QIAGEN microhaplotype panel for kinship analysis from a Swedish population perspective. The results were promising for forensic use of these kinds of genetic markers.

I am now preparing for my next project which is very exciting. I will analyze a custom made QIAseq panel including thousands of SNPs with an emphasis on evaluating the Unique Molecular Indexes (UMI). The approach with UMIs is believed to be very helpful in forensic genetics, especially for the limited quantity and quality of DNA which most often is the reality for forensic cases. Both PCR and sequencing errors can be reduced by introducing UMIs. Parallel to this study, I am also collecting blood samples from Swedish individuals to establish an allele frequency database of the Swedish population based on MPS-generated data.

3. Please describe your typical day in the lab.

I am employed as a Ph.D. student at 50% and the other half as a biochemist working in the lab with routine cases. So, I have a lot of variation in my days. Sometimes I am working on my Ph.D. project which for now involves planning for the QIAseq project by writing a project plan and doing literature studies before entering the lab. Additionally, I am in the lab working with MPS for kinship analysis and sudden cardiac deaths investigations.

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

The most interesting part of my research is that the results are directly applicable to actual cases. My research can lead to methodological improvements that truly can make a difference to individuals and society.

5. What are the benefits of your project?

The overall aim is to increase the information and precision in forensic genetics which is quite a broad spectrum. The research will be helpful and hopefully bring an answer to so-called cold cases that cannot be solved today. Increased information can be achieved as a result of the new forensic panels like the microhaplotype or the QIAseq panel. Furthermore, greater precision can be achieved due to the MPS-based allele frequency database. These improvements can hopefully provide more power to the legal community when DNA is used as evidence.

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

Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges has been the Covid-19 pandemic. It has led to difficulties collecting samples from the Swedish population for the allele frequency project since we are collecting samples via the Swedish health care system and voluntary blood donors. Instead, we have decided to perform other studies in the meantime that also will be of great importance for my overall Ph.D. project. Besides those practical issues, there were some challenges when analyzing the microhaplotype panel. Microhaplotypes consist of multiple SNPs from a specific region and this makes the interpretation slightly different from traditional SNP analysis. However, after deeper study of the software, I managed to assemble all the data.

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

For the microhaplotype panel, I used the GeneRead DNAseq Panel PCR Kit V2 which is a kit used for preparation of DNA libraries for MPS. For the next project, the QIAseq Targeted DNA Panel will be examined. Also, I will use the QIAGEN CLC Genomics Workbench which will be helpful when analyzing that high number of SNPs and to evaluate the UMIs. In addition, I also used the CLC Biomedical Genomics Analysis software for evaluating the microhaplotype panel. Since MPS results consist of such a large amount of data, a user-friendly software is necessary.

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

I am a sports person and I really like cross country skiing and running. Most of my free time is spent in the gym or outdoor training for some running or skiing competition. The biggest challenge was the Nordenskiöldsloppet, the world’s longest and toughest cross-country ski race with 220 km skiing above the Arctic Circle in the northern part of Sweden. That was truly a challenging, and in some way also a “joyful” experience.

Meet Adam in the virtual world when you join us at the Virtual Investigator Forum. Listen to his presentation about ways to increase precision in forensic genetic investigations through best-practice analysis of the limited quantity and quality of DNA in forensic cases.

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