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Hampikian changing lives with forensic biology

Hampikian and student
Greg Hampikian (right) and a student look at genetic data on a computer screen. Photo by Zeke Hopkins.

This article was written by Katie Novak, a junior studying communications and public relations and a member of the student-run Blue House Agency.

In addition to his work tracking COVID and other diseases in wastewater, developing cancer drugs and better HIV testing, Boise State University Professor of biology Greg Hampikian is proving whether prisoners have been wrongfully convicted as co-director of the Idaho Innocence Project.

The Idaho Innocence Project lab attracts some of the most challenging DNA cases from around the world. A national organization dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, the Idaho Innocence Project at Boise State has become known worldwide and has been instrumental in DNA testing for criminal cases.

One notable case Hampikian’s team worked on is that of Amanda Knox who was accused of murdering her roommate in Italy in 2007. Knox spent four years in prison before Hampikian and his team conducted an independent DNA review that resulted in finding conclusive evidence that exonerated her of the charges. Working alongside a team of specialists and trained volunteers, Hampikian has helped free more than three dozen wrongfully convicted people.

“A peer once told me that you can measure success by changing the practice of your field. That has always inspired me to stay curious, seek the truth, and do something about it,” said Hampikian. He brings this knowledge and passion to classes he teaches like “Wrongful Convictions”, “Forensic Biology” and “Human/Viral Coevolution.” The subjects attract new students to his lab each year.

“I learned a lot about how to deal with people experiencing wrongful conviction, how to help them stay positive, and how to keep forward motion, even when everything is pushing against you,” said Dave Henry, an intern turned employee in Hampikian’s lab.

Hampikian is also the Director of the Forensic Justice Project and the Boise State University Wastewater Epidemiology Laboratory, as well as a charter fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Hampikian’s focus on “keeping curious” shows in his most recent project, comparing dog ancestry testing companies (e.g. Embark, Basepaw, Petdna, Wisdom Panel) and determining the accuracy using DNA swabs in conjunction with photographs of dogs tested. Learn more in his article “Is a Picture Worth 1,000 SNPs?

For more information, visit the Idaho Innocence Project website and Facebook page.

Learn more about Hampikian on the Boise State Department of Biology website.