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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

UFS Library book launch programme fosters dialogue between students and authors
2017-03-30

Description: Library book launch 2017 Tags: Library book launch 2017

The University of the Free State (UFS) Sasol Library has hosted a series of book launches since 2016, bringing to the Bloemfontein Campus various new and seasoned authors who share their stories with the campus audiences. The Launch Your Book at the Library Programme hosted two authors on 23 March 2017, Itumeleng Sekhu and Marcia Ramodike. Both authors spoke about their life-changing experiences and shared their heart-wrenching stories, filled with courage and hope. 

“Libraries must take the lead in creating dialogue, expression of ideas and inculcating a culture of reading and writing. This programme was also established to bridge the gap and find ways to encourage students to read and write, by creating a platform where they can interact with authors and see that people who write books are ordinary people with real stories to tell,” said Marcus Maphile, Assistant Director: Library Marketing and Community Engagement.

Speaking about her book, Itumeleng Sekhu described her experiences from childhood and her life as a disabled person after being severely burnt in a fire accident in her home as a baby.  She said: “I tried to commit suicide several times because I had lost hope. Eventually after failing to do so, I realised at some point that it was time for me to let my light shine through.” She wrote her book, titled What Do You See?, which has received substantial media coverage, to encourage others who live with painful experiences, disabilities and what she terms “internal wounds”, hoping that her experiences could help to heal them.

Marcia Ramodike’s book, An Empty Pride to a Full Price, paints a picture of her life as a youth grappling with adult issues. She describes her pain after her mother’s death, and her constant battle with the legacy of the difficult socio-economic conditions she grew up in. When students asked Ramodike what she thought the right time was to write a book, she responded, “today is the right time to write your story”.

The UFS Library has hosted 16 book launches since 2016, with the biggest being the launch of Zubeida Jaffer’s book Beauty of the Heart. The programme aims to provide access to information and to share and debate ideas in support of democracy and freedom of speech.

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