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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

Goodwill and unity reigns supreme at official opening
2014-02-07

Video
Transcription: Prof Jonathan Jansen speech

The academic year at the UFS was officially opened by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector, at a splendid event with staff at the Bloemfontein Campus. “The UFS is no longer the place it was four years ago. When I arrived here, the place was very much divided. The picture is very different today. Staff and students have come together and are spending time together as friends. A new spirit reigns at the university. People are no longer mad at each other; they talk to each other,” Prof Jansen said.

The reason: students know that they are loved and respected. The people responsible for this – the staff.

Prof Jansen particularly emphasised the capacity of staff members to change and to care. “Change at the UFS is possible because of the positive attitude of staff and students. This creates an atmosphere where students can learn to love and forgive.

“We have reached a new consensus where racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia are wrong. We also address this bad behaviour immediately.

“Another highlight at the UFS is the changes in the academy. Debate is deeper and more progressive. We have the best intellectual debates at the UFS. We are also proud of our young researchers in the Prestige Scholars Programme. We are excited, because in five years’ time we will reap the fruits from the efforts of young, as well as older researchers who have worked hard so that we can deliver the best researchers.

“There is another shift in the academic culture on campus with our students increasingly looking academically stronger.

“Besides the capacity of staff to change, they also have a capacity for caring. Projects such as the Staff Fund and the No Student Hungry Programme is doing well, with the NSH Programme raising more than R1 million to feed hungry students,” Prof Jansen said.

At this event, Prof Jansen also gave recognition to the team involved with and working very hard at the Schools Change Project, which is largely responsible for the Free State’s good matric results. With the inspiration of the staff involved with this project, a difference is made to schools in the Free State.

“Our staff members do more than is stipulated in their contracts. Our staff members do their jobs from the heart,” Prof Jansen said.

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