Penn State Ancient DNA Biomolecules Research Laboratory

New laboratory helps scientists unlock secrets contained in primeval DNA

Using DNA to examine life over the past one million years has taught scientists about the origins of modern diseases, improving human health by offering insights into thwarting illnesses. To meet the needs of a specialty team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University, Gannett Fleming designed a lab devoted solely to handling ancient DNA.

Now complete, the 1,406-square-foot Penn State Ancient Biomolecules Research Environment is an oasis of modern science and high-tech equipment within a 70-year-old building on the university’s main campus. The facility fully supports the critical work of studying the past to discover the keys to the future.

What We Did

The complex lab environment required a unique workflow and cleanroom-like conditions to keep DNA samples pure and store them at cool temperatures. Airflow and air-filtration systems limit airborne particulate matter to an absolute minimum. A refrigeration system maintains temperatures between -20 and 4 degrees Celsius, as required for DNA handling. An emergency power system keeps these vital systems running in the event of power failure. The team also added an emergency shower and a new sink in the processing room.

Because intense decontamination is a daily part of lab maintenance, finish materials within the lab are both antimicrobial and durable enough to handle harsh daily bleach cleanings. Furthermore, a sanitizing ultraviolet (UV) lighting system helps prevent contamination in the laboratory. To offset the dangers of UV rays to researchers, the team incorporated safety precautions into the design, including doors and occupancy sensors linked to the system to prevent exposure.

Key Features

  • Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC); plumbing; chemical hoods; lab utilities; and refrigerator and freezer systems all support research activities.
  • Plumbing systems include devices that prevent backflow gases or contaminants from entering the new space.
  • Final connections of exhaust, air supply, plumbing, vacuum, and electrical services to owner-provided equipment enable lab operations.

For more information, watch our webcast: “Investing in Research Infrastructure: Designing Penn State’s Ancient DNA Lab.”

More Project Details

Building Systems




Cleanroom-like conditions enable handling of ancient DNA.

Airflow and air-filtration systems protect samples from impurities.

Refrigeration system maintains proper storage conditions.

Building automation controls monitor and condition the lab.