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DeEtta K. Mills

Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, FIU; Director, International Forensic Research Institute; Director, Forensic DNA Profiling Facility


Phone: 305-348-7410

Email: millsd@fiu.edu

Fax: 305-348-1986

Background

Dr. DeEtta (Dee) Mills is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and current Director of the Forensic DNA Profiling Facility (FDPF) within the International Forensic Research Institute (IFRI) at Florida International University.  Dr. Mills is also the Graduate Program Director for the MS in Forensic Sciences, a FEPAC accredited program.  Research areas of expertise are in DNA separation methods, non-human DNA profiling, development of novel methods for DNA profiling as well as expertise in the soil microbiome for soil provenance and forensic applications.  Funding sources have included NSF (novel separation methods), NIJ (work force training grant), USDA-FS (equine DNA profiling), FBI (trace epithelial cell collection), National Geo-spatial Intelligence Agency (soil forensics), and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (fungal pathogen detection).  Dr. Mills and her students have filed two patents (vacuum collection device for trace evidence; pathogen gold nanoparticle biosensor). Dr. Mills received her BS in Biology (Honors, Cell Biology) from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS in 1988. From 1989-1991, she worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama City, Panama, as a senior research assistant that studied the evolutionary divergence of alpheids (snapping shrimp) across the Isthmus of Panama. She earned an MS in Biology in 1993 from Texas Christian University. From 1994-1996, she worked for the Radiation Biology Branch, FDA, Rockville, MD.  Dr. Mills received her PhD from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA where she optimized several molecular tools to study the microbial community ecology and now applies those principles to forensic microbiology studies. She joined Florida International in 2001 and was awarded the prestigious NSF ADVANCE fellowship for women in 2004-2008. She was appointed as the Director of the Forensic DNA Profiling Facility (FDPF) in 2004. Dr. Mills has been awarded > $1.8M in grants/contracts that have spanned several different disciplines but are based in molecular microbiology and forensic biology. Dr. Mills has assisted both Miami-Dade and Broward crime laboratories with equine DNA typing in horse slaughtering cases that have taken place in the last few years in S Florida. The emphasis of her research and within the Facility is to continue to develop new and novel techniques for forensics. For example, with funding from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, she developed a novel approach for soil forensics where soil microbiota DNA profiles are able to provide, with high accuracy, provenance of a soil sample. Her students are now optimizing a multi-tagged, multi-taxon method for soil forensics/provenance using NexGen sequencing technology and bioinformatics classification algorithms.

General Research Areas

  • Functional metagenomics: Studying functional microbial guilds responsible for the biogeochemical cycling in soil provides a background upon which anthropogenic disturbances of these critical cycles can be better understood. Disease and dogs. Training detector canines to the scent of an invasive fungal plant pathogen will more rapidly identify infected trees and mitigate the spread of the disease. Non-human DNA typing: Unique scent profiles are generated by small molecules produced by the MHC metabolome. Understanding scent profiles and genetics relationships will increase understanding of behavioral mate selection in inbred populations.

CARFS Funded Projects

  • Soil Provenance and Forensics Using Next Generation Sequencing Techniques for Soil Metagenomic Profiling: Soil has provided valuable clues in forensic investigations because of the information content it contains, both abiotic and biotic. Molecular techniques used to assay the soil’s inhabitants have contributed to the ecological knowledge base and have proven useful for soil characterization in the forensic field. This research aims to use soil metagenomic profiling for soil provenance and forensics. This research builds on FIU’s previously developed amplicon length profiling method using bacteria, fungi, Archaea, and plant markers, analogous to human DNA profiling—increase the number of markers, increases the discrimination value. These biotic soil ‘fingerprints’, when processed using bioinformatics classification algorithms, are unique enough that a sample from an unknown origin can be classified with high accuracy to a particular site or soil type and provide even greater soil provenance resolution and probative value to reference soil samples from areas of interest, as well as those of unknown origin.
  • Advanced Human Scent Identification: A cross-disciplinary study using SPME-GC/MS VOC analyses and Next Generation DNA sequencing techniques for increasing the probative value of human scent evidence (with Dr. Furton): Please see Dr. Furton’s research description.