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.



Graciela S. Cabana, PhD



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

Visit her profile page here and her research page here.

Anne Riley, M.A.



Anne is a doctoral student 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 student 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.

Brianna Gardner, MSc


Brianna is a doctoral student 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.

Brianna photo.jpg

Lauren Koutlias, M.A.


Lauren is a Ph.D. student 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.

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.



Frankie L. West, PhD


Frankie received her PhD at UTK in 2019, and joined Western Carolina University as an assistant professor in Forensic Genetics.

As part of UTK’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratories, she worked on validating and assessing non-destructive DNA extraction methods.

Alex Emmons, PhD


Alex earned her Ph.D. at UTK  in 2019 in forensic genetics, advised by Dr. Amy Mundorff.

Her M.A. research was on the detectability of DNA in cadaveric grave soil.

Follow this link for the resulting publication.


Kaitlyn Stiles


Kaitlyn earned her Ph.D. at UTK in 2019, 

co-advised by Dr. Dawnie Steadman and Dr. Aleydis Van de Moortel.

Her dissertation project incorporates skeletal and material cultural analyses with social theory in the study of the Mycenaean chamber tomb cemetery at Golemi Agios Georgios in East Lokris, central Greece.


Brannon I. Hulsey, Ph.D.


Brannon earned her doctorate in 2016, advised by Dr. Graciela Cabana. 

Brannon's dissertation work involved quantitative genetic analyses of limb segment morphology

in humans and other primates.

You can access her dissertation here.


Brannon Hulsey (right) at her

2016 graduation.

Also pictured: Graciela Cabana (left)​.

Bridget Algee-Hewitt, Ph.D.


A UTK graduate, Bridget later worked in our lab as a Haslam Postdoctoral Fellow.

Bridget is currently a Senior Research Scientist in the

Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity at Stanford University.




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.


Computer work area
Computer work area
press to zoom
Bench space
Bench space
press to zoom
PCR & DNA quantitation
PCR & DNA quantitation
press to zoom
Water purification
Water purification
press to zoom
Hoods, fridges, & freezers
Hoods, fridges, & freezers
press to zoom
press to zoom

* 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.


Main entry (view from hallway)
Main entry (view from hallway)
press to zoom
A gowning foyer in one of the suites
A gowning foyer in one of the suites
press to zoom
In Clean Room-appropriate PPE
In Clean Room-appropriate PPE
press to zoom
DNA Extraction room
DNA Extraction room
press to zoom
Prep room
Prep room
press to zoom

* Click on individual pictures for larger-size photos.



UT Genomics Core

The UT Genomics Core is a self-supporting core facility specializing in Sanger sequencing and SNP/fragment analysis.

The main function of the Genomics Core is to assist researchers at the University of Tennessee,

but services are also available to the general scientific community.  

Next Gen Illumina Core Sequencing Facility

The Next Gen Illumina Core Sequencing Facility provides high-throughput next-generation sequencing services to all interested

on-campus and off-campus researchers. Sequencing is performed using the Illumina MiSeq and Oxford Nanopore MinION instruments located on the seventh floor of the Science and Engineering Research Facility (SERF) within the Center for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB).

An Illumina NovaSeq 6000 arrives January 2022. 


UT Bioinformatics Research Center (BRC)

The BRC has six cutting-edge desktop computers operating on a mix of Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. 

The general access computers have bioinformatics resources installed locally, including CLC Genomics Workbench with several powerful modules for specialized analyses.


The BRC also provides access to a suite of bioinformatics programs hosted locally and by the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences.