Dr. Anne Keenleyside
Department of Anthropology, Trent University

Anne KeenleysideThe state-of-the-art bioarchaeology lab in the new DNA Building at Trent University is going to greatly enhance the research conducted by anthropology professor Anne Keenleyside and her graduate students.
As the only anthropology department faculty member in the building, Dr. Keenleyside is excited about what the new lab will do, not only for her own research in studying the health and diet of past populations, but also for increasing the profile of Trent’s anthropology graduate program and its archaeological research centre.

“I saw it as an important need for the University to develop this type of facility,” Dr. Keenleyside said, explaining that the lab was the result of a CFI grant that she received. “The lab and the new equipment will allow us to do a great number of things with archaeological remains.”

The three-room lab consists of a bioarchaeology lab and two paleo-DNA labs. It is the combination of equipment within the rooms, however, that truly makes the space state-of-the-art. This new equipment includes: a stereoscopic microscope and digital imaging system to capture high-quality images of the microscopic structures of bones and teeth; a thin sectioning machine to prepare bones and teeth for microscopic study; and an x-ray machine to examine disease processes in bone.

Within the next few months, Dr. Keenleyside and three of her current graduate students will be in the labs using the equipment to conduct their research – analyzing the remains of ancient Greek and Roman populations from Bulgaria and Tunisia to investigate dietary practices, the prevalence of various diseases, and the geographical origins and movements of these groups.

Being able to conduct this type of research on-campus is of huge benefit to Dr. Keenleyside herself who, in the past, has had to send her samples away or borrow space from other labs. Now she has the ability to perform the necessary analyses all on-site and in a space that is conducive to easier, faster, and more efficient research. The state-of-art facility is also a great draw for graduate students looking to pursue an M.A. in anthropology and bioarchaeology.

According to Dr. Keenleyside, what makes the space truly unique, however, is its location within a larger DNA and forensics research centre: “There are other bioarchaeology labs in the country, but ours is unique because the location provides so many opportunities for collaboration,” she said.  

In her vision of the future, Dr. Keenleyside, who also teaches courses in the Trent-Fleming Forensic Science program, hopes that there will be many opportunities for collaboration with other researchers within the building. She also hopes that the new lab space and equipment will be utilized by students and researchers outside the fields of bioarchaeology. That vision is already starting to take shape as one of her graduate students will use equipment in the lab to pursue a project with a forensic application and another graduate student in Biology is using the lab for her study of DNA in whale bones.

“Eventually my hope is to be able to extract and analyze DNA from archaeological remains, making this one of the few places in Canada where DNA research can be done on archaeological material,” Dr. Keenleyside said.

If the current work and collaborations underway in the new lab are any indication, it is clear that Dr. Keenleyside’s dream will soon be a reality.