Sibte has been researching and teaching at UCLan for 15 years, whilst working as the lead for equality and diversity within the School of Forensic and Applied Sciences. Alongside his colleagues, he has been able to develop an academic skills support service within the school; this is a service that supports students who are struggling with scientific writing skills, or understanding plagiarism and feedback.
Sibte also works within Lancashire Forensic Science Academy; an exciting new opportunity in which the School of Forensic and Applied Sciences and Lancashire Constabulary are collaborating.
In addition to this, Sibte is also a member of the new Ethics Centre at UCLan called HEAL centre, acting as a consultant to foreign governments on matter pertaining to forensic laboratories.
Tell me a bit more about yourself in terms of your experience in the field and your work in the past?
“I completed my Medicine degree in Pakistan, where I specialised in Forensic Medicine & Pathology and then practiced Forensic Pathology for ten years. I then came to the UK where I started working with Professor Peter Vanezis in Glasgow.
“I completed my PhD in Forensic Genetics, before going to work in the USA for three years to work at the Louisiana State University. Whilst in the USA, I was working with the Louisiana Healthy Ageing Group and was required to set up a DNA sequencing laboratory, and this is where I was offered a Faculty position at UCLan.
“I now work as a Forensic Geneticist, mostly focussing on human identification. I also work as a Forensic Expert and Auditor for all the Forensic Science providers within the UK and abroad. This role is interesting because you have to be at various laboratories overseeing the quality of forensic work.”
What do you find are the most interesting parts of DNA profiling?
"DNA profiling has advanced a lot in the last 20 years; it has become a highly sensitive technique, the systems that we work with can generate a full DNA profile with as small a sample as about a tenth of a nanogram.
“This means that we are able to profile touch objects and also severely degraded samples. The UK National DNA Database also interests me a lot, this tool can be used for rapid identification of perpetrators and also act as a defence and acquit people.
“In my role as Auditor, I have to assess laboratories and ensure they are conforming to the requirements and standards that are laid down by the UK National DNA Database. I am quite keen on Y chromosome genetic markers and their use for forensic purposes - I have a patent for a particular technique using Y chromosome forensic genetic markers.”
How significant is it that UCLan attracts students who want to conduct this kind of research?
“Our Forensic Genetics Lab in the School of Forensic & Applied Sciences is very robust, I believe that UCLan is one of the few universities in the UK where the genetic laboratories are as well equipped.
“We have a large number of PhD students who carry out innovative research in the field. It is a huge unit in which we are primarily working on forensic genetic projects that can help to resolve issues confronted by forensic laboratories.
“All the staff within the laboratory are experienced and well known within the field. Any students can learn a lot within our genetics laboratories.”
How successful have your PhD students and interns been so far and what are your hopes for the future?
“Our PhD students have been very successful in their careers. Some have gone on to become lecturers or assistant professors, and others are laboratory directors or trainers. We are currently involved with cutting edge research and I am seeing a revolution at this time within Forensic Genetics.
“We are presently working with Capillary Electrophoresis Systems, which do come with disadvantages - to cope with this, we are using a system called Massive Parallel Sequencing (MPS) which allows you to actually amplify a lot more genetic loci than the current technology.
“With the current technology, we can only amplify about 20-30 genetic loci. Within the MPS technology, the system that we worked had 230 genetic loci. Using this, you can identify the person. You can also determine a person’s probable ancestry, skin colour and eye colour using specific markers within a single assay.
“We are at the forefront of this research with three of my students working on this technology, continuously publishing successfully within the field. We acquire interns from all over the world, some of whom have carried out marvellous work that has also been published.
“I am the Course Leader of a niche and unique course titled MSc DNA Profiling which has been running for 15 years. Over 100 graduates have come from the course, from which 15 have completed their PhDs. MSc DNA Profiling is a successful course that is chose be studied due to our expertise and reputation.
“Students have travelled from all over the world to study the course; this year I had an application from someone who had completed their PhD in Sweden and wanted to progress further on the DNA Profiling MSc. We must be doing something right!”
How much emphasis is there on the independent work as part of this course and PhD work?
“A good researcher is an independent one. This is something that we embed through design within our MSc DNA Profiling course, and also the PhD programme. We first train our students in health and safety, and educate them on different laboratory techniques. Ultimately, my students need to develop themselves as independent and reliable researchers quickly, in order to embark on their research projects.
“One of the key things that employers look for is the capability to work independently. We are conscious of well-equipping the students for their individual futures.”
17 July 2018