Subject: Dr. Vaughn Bryant, Palynologist and Professor, Department of Anthropology Director, Texas A&M Palynology Laboratory.
Education: B.A. Geography (1964), M.A. Anthropology (1966), Ph.D. Botany (1969), The University of Texas at Austin.
Research Interests: Palynology, archaeology and anthropology, especially regarding prehistoric diets and forensics.
What is palynology?
Palynology is the study of pollen grains and spores found in honey and archaeological or geological deposits. There are more than 350,000 plants worldwide that bees utilize, and each plant species produces a unique pollen grain. Pollen is mostly invisible to the naked eye, but when studied under a microscope, it can reveal a multitude of information.
can forensic palynology solve crimes?
Since pollen can survive harsh conditions, it can reveal important clues as evidence. In 2006, I was contacted by a medical examiner in Rochester, New York, to work on an unsolved murder case from 1979. Investigators shipped the victim’s clothing to me, which I analyzed for pollen grains. I determined that the young girl was not from New York, but must have come from southern Florida or around San Diego, California, based on pollen grains found in her clothing's pocket lint that had survived, even after all those years. In 2015, she was identified as being from southern Florida.
How do you analyze pollen grains?
We use a special vacuum to gather pollen from the sample while wearing a full-body forensic suit to avoid contamination. Then we place the vacuumed filter in a test tube and treat it with a series of acids that destroy everything but the pollen. The result is a vial containing the pollen grains, which are microscopically studied, identified and then matched to the plants from which they originated.