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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

Chemistry gets substantial grants
2013-06-10

 

At the experimental setup of the high temperature reduction oven for research in heterogeneous catalysis are, front from left: Maretha Serdyn (MNS Cluster prestige PhD bursar), Nceba Magqi (Sasol employee busy with his MSc in Chemistry) and Dr Alice Brink (Formal MNS Cluster postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry); back Profs Jannie Swarts (Head: Physical Chemistry), André Roodt, and Ben Bezuidenhoudt (Sasol Professor in Organic and Process Chemistry).
10 June 2013

Three research groups in the Department of Chemistry received substantial grants to the value of R4,55 million. The funding includes bursaries for students and post-doctoral fellows, mobility grants, running costs and equipment support, as well as dedicated funds for two young scientists in the UFS Prestige Scholar Programme, Drs Lizette Erasmus and Alice Brink.

The funding comes from Sasol, the THRIP programme of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and PetLabs Pharmaceuticals for the overarching thrust in Organic Synthesis, Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Catalysis. The programme has a broad focuse on different fundamental and applied aspects of process chemistry. Research groups of Profs Andreas Roodt (Inorganic), Jannie Swarts (Physical) and Ben Bezuidenhoudt (Organic / Process), principal members of the focus area of (Green) Petrochemicals in the Materials and Nanosciences Strategic Research Cluster (MNS Cluster) will benefit from the grant.

This funding was granted based on the continued and high-level outputs by the groups, which resulted in more than 40 papers featuring in international chemistry publications in merely the past year. A few papers also appeared in the top experimental inorganic chemistry journal from the American Chemical Society, Inorganic Chemistry. These high-impact papers address important issues in catalysis under the UFS Material and Nanosciences Research Cluster initiative, as well as other aspects of fundamental chemistry, but with an applied approach and focus.

Prof Andreas Roodt, Distinguished Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Chemistry, said the grants will enable the three research groups to move forward in their respective research areas associated with petrochemicals and other projects, and enable additional students in the department to benefit from it. It will also ensure that these groups can continue and maintain their research on different molecular and nano-scale materials. Current experiments include conversions under extremely high gas pressures (typical 100 times that in motor car tyres). This takes place at the molecular level and at preselected nano-surfaces, to convert cheaper feed-stream starting materials into higher value-added products for use as special additives in gasoline and other speciality chemicals.

The funding support forms part of the Hub-and-Spoke initiative at Sasol under which certain universities and specifically the UFS Department of Chemistry have been identified for strategic support for research and development. The department and the UFS gratefully acknowledge this continued and generous support from all parties concerned.

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