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16 October 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Kyla Dooley, runner-up in this year’s Three-minute thesis competition, wants to pursue a career working alongside police enforcement, using her knowledge of forensics to solve criminal cases and convict perpetrators.

When rapes and sexual assaults are committed, DNA evidence can play a large role in convicting the offenders. DNA evidence collected from sexual crimes can, according to Kyla Dooley, often be tricky to analyse.

Kyla has just completed her master’s degree, specialising in Forensic Genetics, at the University of the Free State (UFS). She not only thrives in this field – graduating at the top of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences in 2018 when she was awarded the Dean’s Medal – but her work also brought her the runner-up position in this year’s Three-minute thesis competition. 

She talked about her research on the use of male-specific DNA in the analysis of DNA evidence collected after crimes of a sexual nature have been committed.

Explaining her research, Kyla elaborates: “In most cases, the victim is female, while the offender is male. Therefore, the evidence is often a mixture of male and female DNA and this can make it difficult to analyse the male DNA and match it to a male suspect.”

She believes the solution to this is to target male-specific DNA in analysis. “This eliminates all female DNA and simplifies the process,” says Kyla.

“Unfortunately, male-specific DNA technology is not currently used in South Africa, because the DNA regions tested to date haven’t shown much success in distinguishing between males in our population,” Kyla points out.

“The goal is now to use DNA evidence, to match it to a suspect, and have the confidence that it came from him and only him. Or else defence lawyers could argue that it came from someone else in the population,” she says.

Improving DNA evidence

Therefore, Kyla’s research focused on evaluating a new group of male-specific DNA regions, which are to be tested yet, to see if it would be a viable option for use in South Africa. 

“I achieved this by collecting DNA samples from men on campus, processing them to obtain DNA profiles, and then determining how well these regions can distinguish between the men. The results of my research demonstrate the potential of these DNA regions to improve the use of DNA evidence when investigating sexual assaults in South Africa,” says Kyla.

She believes her study can play a role in increasing the conviction rate of sexual offenders, which could lead to a reduction in South Africa’s alarmingly high rape statistic. 

“Everyone in South Africa is affected by this horrific crime in some way or another, so the benefits of this would be widespread,” she says.

Solving crimes

Although Kyla will one day pursue further studies, she is ready for the next stage in her life. “I am in the process of applying for jobs and getting ready to dive into the real world. I’ll definitely be pursuing a career working alongside police enforcement to solve criminal cases and convict perpetrators of such crimes. Working for the NYPD in the USA or Scotland Yard in the UK is the ultimate dream job,” she says.

“I chose my field not only because the forensics world absolutely fascinates me, but also because I want to make a difference. I want to play a role in getting justice for those affected by violent crimes. One simple process in a forensic scientist’s everyday routine could be a life changer for a victim of crime,” believes Kyla.

 

 


News Archive

UFS appoints Dr Derek Swemmer as Registrar
2010-09-30

Dr Derek Swemmer

The University of the Free State (UFS) has appointed Dr Derek Swemmer, current Registrar of the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), as its Registrar.

Dr Swemmer, who is currently recognised as one of the most experienced, competent and outstanding registrars in South Africa, will join the UFS as from 1 October 2010. He was Registrar at WITS since 1995.

“I am enthusiastic at the thought of working at the UFS under its new leadership and in a time of change. This appointment creates the opportunity for me to assess the many existing practices of the UFS and to seek to enhance these based on my own experience at WITS,” he said.

Dr Swemmer started his academic career as a part-time student assistant at the University of Pretoria (UP) in 1974. He also taught at the Christ’s Hospital Public School in the United Kingdom and was a full-time lecturer in the Department of English at the University of South Africa (UNISA) until he joined WITS as Personal Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor and Principal in 1985.

Dr Swemmer holds a D Litt et Phil in English from the University of South Africa. He received numerous awards including the South African Golden Key International Honours Society Chapter Adviser of the Year in 2006 and 2008, an extraordinary second Certificate of Honour by the International Education Association of South Africa and the Golden Key International Leadership Council President’s Award.

Dr Swemmer chaired, amongst others, the WITS Issues Management Group and the WITS Crisis Committee; and was an Honorary Treasurer of the International Education Association of South Africa and an Honorary Secretary of the English Academy of Southern Africa.

He authored, co-authored and co-edited a number of text books, journals and magazines. He also delivered a number of papers at national and international conferences.

Dr Swemmer will be taking up the position as the single registrar of the UFS.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication (actg)
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl@ufs.ac.za  
29 September 2010
 

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