NBC CT: Judge Approves Exhumation of Unknown Victims of Circus Fire
Angela Ambers, associate professor of forensic science, discusses how victims remains of the '44 circus fire can be identified.
Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, University of North Texas
M.S. in Forensic Genetics, UNT Health Science Center
M.A. in Criminology, University of Texas at Arlington
B.S. in Biology, Maryville College
Dr. Ambers holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology (with emphasis in forensic genetics and human identification), as well as master’s degrees both in forensic genetics and in criminology. She began her career in forensic genetics studying under the late Arthur Eisenberg, one of the pioneers of forensic DNA testing in the United States.
Dr. Ambers worked as a full-time forensic geneticist for the University of North Texas (UNT) Center for Human Identification for 8 years, specializing in DNA analysis and genetic characterization of unidentified human remains (UHR). In 2018, she received the "Outstanding Forensic Genetics Alumni" award for her successes and contributions to the field. Her research has involved an investigation of alternative methods (e.g., whole genome amplification, DNA repair) for improving autosomal and Y-STR typing of degraded and low copy number (LCN) DNA from human skeletal remains and environmentally-damaged biological materials, as well as development/optimization of a DNA-based multiplex screening tool for the separation of fragmented and commingled skeletal remains in mass graves.
Prior to joining UNH, Dr. Ambers was an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas for 12 years (teaching molecular biology, genetics, heredity, human anatomy/physiology). In 2008, she developed the curriculum for a course in forensic molecular biology, and for a decade taught DNA analysis/methodology to undergraduate students enrolled in UNT’s FEPAC-accredited forensic science certificate program. Before pursuing her doctorate, Dr. Ambers was lead DNA analyst and lab manager of the UNT DNA Sequencing Core Facility. Her casework has involved DNA testing of an American Civil War guerrilla scout, several Finnish World War II soldiers, unidentified late-19th century skeletal remains discovered by a construction crew in Deadwood, South Dakota, unidentified skeletal remains of Special Operations soldiers killed during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, skeletal remains of two soldiers from Napoleon’s army, skeletal remains exhumed from Prague Castle in the Czech Republic, skeletal remains of soldiers from the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), and bone samples purported to belong to a member of Jesse James gang (killed during a bank robbery in 1876).
Dr. Ambers co-presented a workshop on "Advanced Methods for DNA-based Analysis of Skeletal Remains" at the 26th International Symposium on Human Identification, and in 2015 was an invited speaker at an international bone workshop/conference in Prague, Czech Republic. In 2017, she traveled twice to India to train scientists from various Indian states and the Maldives Police Service on the processing of bone samples in forensic DNA casework. She specializes in characterization and identification of contemporary, historical, and archaeological human skeletal remains. Her casework and research has been published in various peer-reviewed journals [Forensic Science International: Genetics (FSI: Genetics), International Journal of Legal Medicine, Legal Medicine, BMC Genomics, Croatian Medical Journal, The Journal of Heredity] and has received press in numerous local and national newspapers, including The Washington Times. Dr. Ambers’ most recent casework (a collaboration with the Texas Historical Commission) includes DNA analyses of five sets of human skeletal remains associated with the French explorer La Salle’s last expedition, and twenty-five sets of skeletal remains associated with Spanish royalty and the Kings of Aragon.
In addition to skeletal remains cases and research, Dr. Ambers collaborated with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) in 2014 to develop and disseminate a formal report on the use of "Familial DNA Searching" in cold case investigations, an approach which recently garnered media attention for its use in catching the Golden State Killer. She also recently (2017-2018) served as project lead on a U.S. State Department grant to combat human trafficking in Central America through the application of forensics. As part of the program objectives, she traveled to three Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) to perform gap assessments of government laboratories and train personnel in forensic DNA analysis, with the goal of promoting quality casework methods based on ISO 17025 standards. In addition to providing both lecture and tactile training on DNA analysis methods to Northern Triangle laboratories, Dr. Ambers was part of a consortium to help these countries develop and maintain forensic DNA databases to assist in the identification of missing persons related to human trafficking.
2018 - Ambers A, Vanek D, Votrubova J, Sajantila A, Budowle B. Improved Y-STR typing for disaster victim identification, missing persons investigations, and historical human skeletal remains. International Journal of Legal Medicine 132(6), pp. 1545-1553. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00414-018-1794-8
2018 - Ambers A, Woerner AE, Wendt FR, King JL, Moura-Neto RS, Silva R, Budowle B. Evaluation of the Precision ID mtDNA Whole Genome Panel on two massively parallel sequencing systems. Forensic Science International: Genetics 36, pp. 213-224.
2018 - Woerner A, Novroski N, Wendt F, Ambers A, Wiley R, Schmedes S, Budowle B. Forensic human identification with targeted microbiome markers using nearest neighbor classification. Forensic Science International: Genetics, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsigen.2018.10.003
2018 - Ambers A, Wiley R, Novroski N, Budowle B. Direct PCR amplification of DNA from human bloodstains, saliva, and touch samples collected with microFLOQ® swabs. Forensic Science International: Genetics 32, pp.80-87.
2017 - Votrubova J, Ambers A, Budowle B, Vanek D. Comparison of standard capillary electrophoresis based genotyping method and ForenSeq™ DNA Signature Prep kit (Illumina) on a set of challenging samples, Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fsigss.2017.09.027
2017 - Vanek D, Budowle B, Dubska-Votrubova J, Ambers A, et al. Results of a collaborative study on DNA identification of aged bone samples, Croatian Medical Journal 58, pp. 229-239.
2016 - Budowle B, Ambers A. Analyzing unknown human remains: Cold missing persons case. Forensic Magazine.
2016 - Budowle B, Ambers A. Shaking the dust from historical DNA with massively parallel sequencing. BioScience Technology.
2016 - Ambers A, Churchill JD, King JL, Stoljarova M, Gill-King H, M. Assidi, M. Abu-Elmagd, A. Buhmeida, Budowle B. More comprehensive forensic genetic marker analyses for accurate human remains identification using massively parallel sequencing (MPS). BMC Genomics 17 (Suppl 9), p. 750.
2016 - Ambers A, Turnbough M, Benjamin R, Gill-King H, King J, Sajantila A, Budowle B. Modified DOP-PCR for improved STR typing of degraded DNA from human skeletal remains and bloodstains, Legal Medicine 18, pp. 7-12.
2015 - Budowle B, Harmon R, Ambers A, Melton P, Hamstra S. Familial DNA searching: Current approaches. National Institute of Justice (Forensic Technology Center of Excellence).
2014 - Ambers A, Gill-King H, Dirkmaat D, Benjamin R, King J, Budowle B. Autosomal and Y-STR analysis of degraded DNA from the 120-year-old skeletal remains of Ezekiel Harper. Forensic Science International: Genetics 9, pp. 33-41.
2014 - Ambers A, Turnbough M, Benjamin R, King J, Budowle B. Assessment of the role of DNA repair in damaged forensic samples. International Journal of Legal Medicine 128, pp. 913-921.
2018 - More Y-STR alleles from old bones, Thermo Fisher Scientific: Behind the Bench. https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/behindthebench/more-y-str-alleles-from-old-bones/
2018 - Analyzing history: Putting the pieces together one run at a time, International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) News. https://www.ishinews.com/analyzing-history-putting-pieces-together-one-run-time/
2017 - Improved Y-STR typing for disaster victim identification, missing persons investigations, and historical human skeletal remains, International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) News. https://www.ishinews.com/improved-y-str-typing-for-disaster-victim-identification-missing-persons-investigations-and-historical-human-skeletal-remains/
2017 - ISHI 2017: Rapid DNA, genetic mixtures, next-gen, and the cold trail of dead serial killers, Forensic Magazine. https://www.forensicmag.com/news/2017/09/ishi-2017-rapid-dna-genetic-mixtures-next-gen-and-cold-trail-dead-serial-killers
2017 - A bloody mystery of Bonnie and Clyde, UNTHSC Solutions Magazine. https://www.unthsc.edu/newsroom/story/bloody-mystery-bonnie-clyde/
2017 - Deadwood pioneer: A face from the past. World Premiere Documentary, South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB). http://www.sdpb.org/blogs/arts-and-culture/deadwood-pioneer-a-face-from-the-past-premiere/
2017 - Catching a killer: SNAPShot DNA. National Geographic Channel, Explorer Season 10 Episode 16. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/u/kckMOO8vzgE0eXO-_g97LRH4Zb5Xmd4PmhWIqmkYvCmvmkGuqN-M5yya3g/ (*Featured performing laboratory work with Bruce Budowle)
2017 - Meet the Deadwood pioneer: Scientifically-based artist’s rendering unveiled of early Deadwood resident. Black Hills Pioneer. http://www.bhpioneer.com/deadwood/meet-the-deadwood-pioneer/article_823ef9ea-3b0e-11e7-ad19-efc8200300ce.html
2016 - Identifying 140-year-old remains using massively parallel sequencing. International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) Top 10 Blog Posts for 2016. http://www.ishinews.com/top-10-blog-posts-of-2016/
2016 - Deadwood mystery man laid to rest after 160 years. The Washington Times. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/sep/30/deadwood-mystery-man-laid-to-rest-after-160-years/
2016 - How science and history paired up to define Deadwood mystery man. Rapid City Journal. http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/how-science-and-history-paired-up-to-define-deadwood-mystery/article_974bf14a-7dc6-5e59-84c6-c7949e608eed.html
2016 - Final resting place for early Deadwood pioneer. Black Hills Pioneer. http://www.bhpioneer.com/deadwood/final-resting-place-for-early-deadwood-pioneer/article_0e2d3d4a-8728-11e6-bf90-b794013f4365.html
2016 - Identifying 140-year-old remains using massively parallel DNA sequencing. International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) News. http://ishinews.com/identifying-140-year-old-remains-using-massively-parallel-dna-sequencing /
2016 - Autosomal and Y-STR analysis of degraded DNA from the 120-year-old skeletal remains of Ezekiel Harper. International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) News. http://ishinews.com/autosomal-and-y-str-analysis-of-degraded-dna-from-the-120-year-old-skeletal-remains-of-ezekiel-harper/
2015 - Forensic DNA testing of human remains reveals more clues. Black Hills Pioneer. http://www.bhpioneer.com/local_news/article_c9c84872-92a8-11e4-b71c-5b96b22d2cf9.html
2015 - Modern sleuths attempt to solve mystery of 130-year-old skeleton. Rapid City Journal. https://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/modern-sleuths-attempt-to-solve-mystery-of--year-old/article_39157094-8e83-5f79-895e-79b6054d632c.html
2015 - Autosomal and Y-STR analysis of degraded DNA from 120-year-old skeletal remains. International Symposium on Human Identification, Promega Spotlight Video Interview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0rkekO9oRA
2014 - Skeletal remains headed for DNA testing. Black Hills Pioneer. http://www.bhpioneer.com/local_news/article_2b358b94-c1a1-11e3-acb1-001a4bcf887a.html
2014 - Skeletal remains headed for DNA testing. Forensic Magazine. http://www.forensicmag.com/news/2014/04/skeletal-remains-headed-dna-testing
2014 - Putting a face on the past: Modern scientists unraveling a historic mystery. Rapid City Journal. http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/putting-a-face-on-the-past-modern-scientists-unraveling-a/article_7abe98a8-c521-5ba2-966c-edef568bb292.html
2014 - Scientists unraveling a historic Deadwood mystery. The Washington Times. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jul/6/scientists-unraveling-a-historic-deadwood-mystery/?page=all
2009 - Students learn how to unravel crimes using forensics. ("Whether a suspect someday spends his life in prison or gets released from jail could depend on the work of students inside Angie Ambers’ molecular biology laboratory at the University of North Texas"). Times Record News.
Degraded DNA, low copy number (LCN) DNA, challenged forensic samples, skeletal remains, unidentified human remains (UHR), decomposition/taphonomy, missing persons, mass disaster victim identification (DVI), human trafficking, massively parallel sequencing (MPS), secondary DNA transfer, postconviction DNA testing.