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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

2015 Spring Graduation Ceremony rekindles spirit of Ubuntu
2015-09-22

 

Our graduates: A new generation of future leaders
to advance South Africa

 -  Video: Spring Graduation Ceremony

“Give away your love, attention, care and more.” These words of Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State (UFS), capture the spirit of the 2015 Spring Graduation Ceremony that took place on Thursday 17 September 2015.

On this special day, 599 diplomas and degrees were conferred from the faculties of the Humanities, Education, Law, Theology, Economic and Management -, Health -, and Natural and Agricultural Sciences. Central to both the morning and afternoon ceremonies was the message of Ubuntu.

The essence of humanity

“Here is my advice to you,” Prof Jansen said to the graduates, “whatever you have, give it away. Give away your love, attention, care and more.” Prof Jeffrey Sachs, guest speaker at both events, supported this message by saying that the essence of humanity is the cornerstone to success. Prof Sachs, a prominent American economist and humanitarian, asked graduates to use their hard-earned knowledge wisely, fairly and boldly. “You are the wealth of South Africa, for your knowledge is the key to SA’s prosperity.”

The UFS Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences honoured Prof Sachs by conferring an honorary doctorate on him. With this prestigious conferral, the faculty acknowledges Prof Sach’s extensive work in sustainable economic, social and political development across the globe. Dr Khotso Mokhele, Chancellor of the UFS, commended Prof Sachs for his compassion and passion for humanity. “I’m truly inspired that you agreed to associate yourself with this institution. We are proud to be associated with your excellence,” Dr Mokhele said.

Celebrating the extraordinary

One of many highlights of the day was when Leanne Kunz and Karabo Motlhakoana walked across the stage to respectively receive their Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration and a BSc degree in Information Technology.

Kunz has been compiling news bulletins for The Breakfast Special show, aired on the OFM radio station, for five years. This Kovsie Alumnus graduated with a Media Studies degree a few years ago. Kunz did not allow her successful career at the popular radio station to hinder her studying further, though. Neither has Motlhakoana’s physical challenges.

While everyone else used their hands to take notes, Motlhakoana used his foot. Despite being born with no arms, he was able to beat the odds by qualifying as a computer scientist. Motlhakoana was also involved in the Leadership for Change programme in 2011 which contributed to producing the well-rounded graduate he is today. When walking across the stage, “I felt like I achieved something that gave me a challenge,” he said.

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