Up Close: Fabiana Taglia and Mirna Ghemrawi

At the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, we’re training the next generation of changemakers. Our faculty and students are constantly making new discoveries which lead to new publications and solutions. We took a closer look at not only the research, but the people who make it all happen. This is one in a series we’ve titled, Up Close.

Scully. Abby. Bones. While these TV CSIs were more fauxrensics than fact, the truth is women are dominating the field of forensic science.

Mirna with flag underwater

Fabiana Taglia and Mirna Ghemrawi traveled across the globe with the sole purpose of studying forensic science. They both found their way to FIU where they now work under analytical and forensic chemistry professor Bruce McCord.

“In [Italy] it’s very hard to pursue a career in forensic genetic research,” Taglia said. “I already knew Dr. McCord from his publications and I decided to come to FIU to work with him and enter the Ph.D. program.”

For Ghemrawi, a Fulbright scholar from Lebanon, it was destiny.

Intent on making her mother’s dream of her becoming a doctor a reality, Ghemrawi followed the advice of her Purdue University professors to attend FIU and found herself in Miami.

“I never thought that I would have the option to study abroad. Yet, Allah has destined that to me, Ghemrawi said. “When I finished my master’s studies, I felt the need to learn more and conduct more research, so I decided to apply for a doctoral degree.”

fabiana in lab

With the McCord lab’s diverse research areas in forensic genetics, toxicology, explosives residue and more, Taglia and Ghemrawi’s interests were a perfect match.

Taglia focuses on alternative strategies for human identification. While DNA is understood as the gold-standard for identification, it can be easily damaged or degraded making it complicated to produce a profile. She also looks at Next Generation Sequencing techniques, which allows Taglia to rapidly sequence the process and determine the nucleic acid information within DNA – a specific area or an entire genome of numerous organisms.

Ghemrawi’s main focus is species identification using different technologies, including real-time Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This technique allows her to amplify a very small DNA sample to be big enough to study. “I am also interested in understanding the microbial signatures and metagenomics application in forensic caseworks, particularly in sexual assaults,” she added.

Mirna Ghemrawi

They recently presented some of their research and findings at the Virtual 9th Annual Forensic Science Symposium.

It wasn’t just their research that got the pair named to the inaugural International Symposium on Human Identification Student Ambassador program. It was their dedication and passion for the future of forensic science.

“I am now known as the passionate forensic student,” Ghemrawi says. “I would like to have a contribution to the forensic community and the justice system globally.”

How? That part, she says, she’s still learning.

The women thank their families, both who share DNA and those who don’t, for their successes.

Fabiana Taglia

Taglia, a mother of a 2-year-old who started over at 35 years old when she came to America to pursue her education in the United States, has met many impactful people along the way who have supported and taught her, including McCord.

Superheroes. That’s how Ghemrawi describes her mother and father. She says both sacrificed for years to provide the life she’s enjoying now.

The biggest difference between these two FIU forensic science students and their TV counterparts?

“Contamination!” Ghemrawi exclaims. “It is normal to see a detective walking and touching evidence with bare hands.”

Her solution? Hiring a forensic consultant to at least make sure the basics are correct.

For Taglia, it’s the fashion. High heels and a nice blow out just aren’t how she shows up to work every day.

But the one thing they have in common is the unmistakable ability to influence the next generation of female forensic scientists.