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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

In her inaugural lecture, Prof Helene Strauss explores symbols that reflect our history
2014-02-18

 

Prof Helene Strauss
The burning tyre – image of promise and disappointment
Photo: Stephen Collett

Prof Helene Strauss did not disappoint in her highly-anticipated inaugural lecture “The Spectacles of Promise and Disappointment: Political Emotion and Quotidian Aesthetics in Post-transitional South Africa”. She posed some very challenging ideas on the promises and disappointments that arouse from apartheid. Prof Strauss pointed to the fact that “… a promise must promise to be kept; that is, not to remain spiritual or abstract, but to produce events, new effective forms of action, practice, organisation, and so forth.”

She underscored the message of her lecture by making use of the image of a burning tyre – a symbol commonly associated with apartheid. This act of ‘necklacing’ is closely connected to the violence and protests of that era. Prof Strauss used this image to represent an array of social concerns: global mass protest, modernity and mobility, waste economies and waste management, environmental destruction, as well as poverty and resistance in varied formats.

Some of South Africa’s greatest artists have used the burning tyre in their work, particularlyBerni Searle and Zanele Muhloi. Not only does it trigger the shadow of the damaging past, but “more recently, it has come to figure also in the spectacles of promise and disappointment that have marked the country’s transitional and post-transitional periods,” Prof Strauss remarked.

Prof Strauss focuses her research on these symbolisms in our history because of “the questions that they raise about the emotional cultures produced in the aftermath of apartheid and for the unique contribution that they make to current debates on political and aesthetic activism.”Her passion for this subject comes from the “affective or emotional legacies of various forms of structural inequality, an interest that owes a sizeable debt to postcolonial, queer and feminist critical theory and creative work of the past hundred or so years.”

Prof Strauss accepted a position at the University of the Free Sate in 2011 and currently works in the Department of English. She is part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholars Programme and holds a PhD from the University of Western Ontario. Previously, she held the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada, where she resided for 11 years.

Among the guests were Prof Jonathan Jansen, Profs Botes and Witthuhn, lecturers in the Department of English, members of the Faculty of the Humanities, students and some of Prof Strauss’ colleagues from Canada.

 

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