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10 June 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Dr Ehlers was appointed to serve on the National Forensic Oversight and Ethics Board of 10 members for a second term, based on her knowledge in the field of forensic sciences.

Dr Karen Ehlers from the Department of Genetics at the University of the Free State (UFS) was elected as a member of the National Forensic Oversight and Ethics Board (NFOEB) for a second term.

Dr Ehlers has been appointed to the board of 10 members based on her knowledge in the field of forensic sciences. She is currently conducting research focusing on the forensic application of Y-STR markers, the statistical analysis of DNA profiles, and touch DNA.

Making valuable contributions
Her expertise in the field of forensic genetics assists the board – which also handles complaints about alleged violations relating to the abuse of DNA samples and forensic DNA profiles – to oversee the operations of the Forensic Science Laboratory and the National Forensic DNA Database (NFDD). 

“The knowledge I gained from my current research at the UFS has enabled me to make valuable contributions to the board and its recommendations to the Minister of Police,” says Dr Ehlers. 

In her first term as member of the Board – following regular tracking and analysis of reports, the Board noted an increase in the number of outstanding forensic investigative leads – (hits on the National Forensic DNA Database) that were not followed up.

“After we made enquiries, it was determined that the provincial task teams that were to follow up on the leads, were ad hoc structures that lacked the necessary resources. The Board addressed this shortfall by engaging with various stakeholders and helping to establish permanent structures, called Forensic Investigative Units, with dedicated resources – both human and material – to effectively follow up on all forensic DNA investigative leads. The finalised Regulations were published for comment in the Government Gazette on 27 March 2020,” says Dr Ehlers.

Lowering SA crime rate
While serving on this board, she is ensuring that South Africa has a functioning DNA database that contributes to lowering the crime rate in the country. “As a member of the board, I hope to add value to its functioning. I feel that in the future, science will play an even bigger role in crime prevention, detection, and the solving of crimes,” she states.

Dr Ehlers is Programme Director of the Forensic Sciences Programme in the Department of Genetics. She teaches the Crime Scene Management module to second-year students and supervises seven honours, five MSc, and three PhD students. 

Besides her appointment as member of the NFOEB, she values the work she is doing with her students. “The highlight of my career was when my first group of BScHons students in Forensic Genetics graduated and were shortly thereafter appointed by the Forensic Sciences Laboratory as DNA analysts,” she says. 

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