top of page

Molecular Anthropology Laboratories


Department of Anthropology

University of Tennessee

MAL-UTK is a suite of laboratories dedicated to DNA analyses of humans, with a specialty in degraded DNA

(a/k/a contemporary DNA of "forensic" age, ancient DNA, archaeogenetics, and paleogenomics).


DNA analyses are brought to bear on theory and questions emanating from the disciplines of

Science & Technology Studies (STS), Anthropology, and the anthropological subdisciplines of Biosocial/Biocultural Anthropology, and  Bioarchaeology.


Scroll down for information about Lab Members, Lab Facilities, and UT Supporting Facilities.


Anchor 1

Graciela S. Cabana, PhD

(hear my name) she/her



Dr. Graciela Cabana is the Principal Investigator of MAL-UTK. 

Visit her profile page here and her research page here.

Anne Riley Smith, M.A.



Anne is a doctoral candidate advised by Dr. Graciela Cabana. She is particularly interested in working with ancient DNA within the field of anthropological genetics. She has a regional interest in Andean South America.


For her 2019 Master's thesis, Anne investigated how the use of a prominent bleach-based decontamination protocol in archaeological samples may itself degrade DNA.

Anne is a member of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics (AAAG)

and the Paleopathology Association (PPA).


Anne Riley at the 2016 annual meetings of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Antropología Biológica (ALAB) in Tacuarembó, Uruguay.

Lateefa Abel.jpg

Lateefa Abel, M.A.


Lateefa is a doctoral candidate advised by Dr. Graciela Cabana. Her research interests are in ancient DNA methods and applications, the ethics and implications of ancient DNA studies, bioarchaeology, and the effects of Spanish colonialism in the northern coast of Peru.

Kamar Afra, M.A.


Kamar’s research focuses on human identification through an interdisciplinary approach between forensic anthropology, genetics, and art. Her past research focuses on the employment of genetic markers in facial reconstruction techniques. 

Her dissertation work will explore the process of disappearance through a biocultural lens. She will interrogate the different current forensic techniques involved in the process of human identification in the criminal justice system through a community engaged project highlighting local resources. 


Kamar is also interested in Islamic mortuary practices and their effects on postmortem decomposition, Quantitative & Statistical Methods through machine learning, and transitional justice in human rights issues.

Brianna photo.jpg

Brianna Gardner, MSc


Brianna is a doctoral candidate in biological anthropology, advised by Dr. Graciela Cabana.

She is interested in combining genetic and skeletal analysis to assess the role of genetic susceptibility in disease manifestation within afflicted archaeological populations.

Brianna earned her MSc at the University of Durham, U.K., where she evaluated orbital roof lesions associated with metabolic disease manifestation in urban medieval populations.

Lauren Koutlias, M.A.


Lauren is a Ph.D. candidate at UTK advised by Dr. Graciela Cabana. Broadly, her research interests lie in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology, and her past research centers around the impact of social, political, and economic inequality on life course trajectories in ancient, modern, and forensic populations. Specifically, she focuses on skeletal indicators of childhood stress in adults and considers all aspects of the biocultural context. 

Lauren earned her M.A. from Texas State University in 2019. She has conducted field and lab work in Belize, Peru, Romania, and south Texas. 


For her dissertation, she will be focusing on  skeletal stress indicators among trauma victims in Greece.


Rebecca Kraus


Becca is a Master’s candidate in biological anthropology at UTK, advised by Dr. Graciela Cabana.

Her research interests are in human evolution and reconstructing population histories through ancient DNA techniques.


Becca earned a B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology and a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Connecticut in 2022. 

Rachel Robrecht


Rachel is a Master’s student in biological anthropology, advised by Dr. Cabana. Her area of interest is ancient DNA, and more specifically how ancient DNA techniques can be applied to bioarcheology excavations to learn more about cemetery populations.


Rachel earned her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Biology from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.



Anchor 2


The Molecular Anthropology Laboratories consist of two lab spaces: the "Main Lab" for DNA studies of modern (living) peoples,

and the "Clean Room Labs" which consist of two independent lab suites for ancient/paleogenomic DNA studies of past peoples.


Both sets of labs are USDA certified to receive foreign soils.​



The Main Lab is located in Strong Hall 518. Along with work and bench spaces, this lab houses equipment that allows for DNA extraction,

PCR amplification, DNA visualization, and library and sequencing preparation.


* Click on individual pictures for larger-size photos.



The Clean Room Labs are located in Strong Hall 515. The labs consist of a large entry area with work space, plus two independent suites each dedicated to projects involving degraded DNA. Each suite consists of four areas: (1) gowning (i.e., putting on PPE), (2) sample preparation, (3) DNA extraction, and (4) amplification or library preparation. The suites house all relevant equipment for these uses.


* Click on individual pictures for larger-size photos.

Anchor 3


UT Genomics Core

The UT Genomics Core offers high-throughput next-generation sequencing services to all interested

on-campus and off-campus researchers. Sequencing is performed using the Illumina Novaseq and Illumina MiSeq instruments

located in room 407 of the Science and Engineering Research Facility (SERF). The facility is managed by Veronica Brown.

Bioanalytical Resource Facility

The Bioanalytical Resource Facility (BRF) offers large collection of instrumentation for biophysical and biochemical characterization

of proteins and nucleic acids. 

The facility is located in Mossman 342/348 and is managed by Ed Wright.

bottom of page