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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

'Structures of Dominion and Democracy' by David Goldblatt at the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery
2015-08-03

Photograph by David Goldblatt, On August 16 2012 South African Police shot striking mineworkers of the Lonmin platinum mines, killing 34 and wounding 78 within a radius of 350 metres of this koppie, where the men used to meet. Seventeen of the men, seeking shelter among boulders from police fire, were shot with seemingly lethal intent, some with their hands up in surrender, none were given medical assistance for their wounds. Beyond is the Lonmin smelter, which stood idle during the strike. Marikana, North-West Province, 11 May 2014.

The University of the Free State, in partnership with the Goodman Gallery, presents the exhibition, 'Structures of Dominion and Democracy', by renowned South African photographer David Goldblatt.  

This exhibition, which runs from 13 July to 7 August 2015 on the Bloemfontein Campus, is dedicated to the series, “Structures”, one of the major bodies of works by Goldblatt.  For over three decades, Goldblatt has travelled South Africa, photographing sites and structures weighted with historical narrative: monuments, private, religious and secular, which reveal something about the people who built them.  These sites allow us a glimpse into the everyday. Each place is a repository, a landscape containing an epic story that has involved whole communities: the experience sometimes told through the memorialising of remarkable individuals.

The exhibition, Structures of Dominion and Democracy, traverses two distinct eras in South Africa history. As Goldblatt explains: "Over the years, I have photographed South African structures, which I found eloquent, of the dominion which Whites gradually came to exert over all of South Africa and its peoples.  That time of domination began in 1660 when Jan van Riebeeck ordered a cordon to be erected of blockhouses and barriers that would exclude the indigenous population from access to the first European settlement in South Africa and its herds, lands, water, and grazing.  The time of domination ended on the 2nd of February 1990, when, on behalf of the government and the Whites of South Africa, President FW de Klerk effectively abdicated from power.  Beginning in 1999 and continuing to the present, I have photographed some structures that are eloquent of our still nascent democracy.  In the belief that, in what we build we express much about what we value, I have looked at South African structures as declarations of our value systems, our ethos.”

Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, UFS Sasol Library
University of the Free State
206 Nelson Mandela Ave
Bloemfontein

Gallery hours:  
Monday to Friday 08:30 – 16:30

Entrance: Free
Enquiries: 051 401 2706, dejesusav@ufs.ac.za

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