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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 praised for hosting international research development programme
2013-03-05

 

At the farewell function were, from the left: Dr GansenPillay (deputy executive officer of the NRF), Emile Goofo (Cameroon), his son Tylio in the arms of Prof Nicky Morgan (Vice-Rector: Operations), Avelino Mondhane from Stockholm University (originally from Mozambique) and Prof Neil Heideman (Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences).
Photo: Leatitia Pienaar
05 March 2013

“I must congratulate the University of the Free State on doing something like this,” Dr Gansen Pillay said at the farewell function for the participants in the Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme (SA-YSSP) at the UFS.

The 19 young scientists from 16 countries completed their three-month programme at the end of February 2013. As another step in the process the participants must write articles for reputable journals and complete their doctoral studies. Their performance in the research world will also be tracked.

Dr Pillay, deputy executive officer of the National Research Foundation (NRF), said an investment was made in the researchers to secure the future of the programme. A lot of persuasion and proof was necessary to convince the Austrian Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) that a programme of this nature could be presented in Africa.

The SA-YSSP was hosted and managed by the UFS. The programme was developed by the NRF in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and IIASA into a novel and innovative initiative.  The official launch was by the Minister of Science and Technology during November 2011.

The SA-YSSP will be an annual three-month education, academic training and research capacity-building programme. Aligned with the YSSP model, annually presented in Austria, the SA-YSSP offered scientific seminars covering themes in the social and natural sciences, often with policy dimensions, to broaden the participants’ perspectives and strengthen their analytical and modelling skills, further enriching a demanding academic and research programme.

Prof Martin Mtwaeaborwa, SA-YSSP deputy dean, said the academic performance of the young scientists superseded the expectations. “I hope the scholars will look back at the programme as the moment their careers began.”

The added, “The UFS received positive remarks for organising the programme and we hope to get it again in future.”

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