UWC’s new DNA pro­fil­ing kit

In­valu­able for sex­ual as­sault in­ves­ti­ga­tions


THE Univer­sity of the Western Cape’s launch of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary DNA pro­fil­ing sys­tem could prove in­valu­able for po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions into sex­ual as­sault cases.

De­signed by the UWC’s DNA Foren­sic Lab and In­qaba Biotec, the kit, known as UniQ-TyperTM Y-10, tar­gets DNA that is car­ried only by men – the Y-chro­mo­some.

The univer­sity said the Statis­tics SA 2018 re­port, Crime against Women in South Africa, showed that, apart from the hor­ri­fy­ing in­ci­dence of rape, 250 out of ev­ery 100 000 women were vic­tims of sex­ual abuse.

Sex­ual as­saults went down from 69 197 to 50 108 over a 10-year pe­riod be­tween 2008 and 2018, ac­cord­ing to po­lice crime statis­tics.

How­ever, UWC said, this marked only a 27% de­crease in the num­ber of cases (ac­tu­ally) re­ported to po­lice, and not nec­es­sar­ily a sig­nif­i­cant change in the num­ber of of­fences.

Pro­fes­sor Maria Eu­ge­nia D’Amato, head of the foren­sic DNA lab­o­ra­tory at the Depart­ment of Biotech­nol­ogy and leader of the project, and her team col­lected DNA sam­ples from anony­mous male South African donors.

D’Amato said these sam­ples had led to a unique ref­er­ence data­base rep­re­sent­ing the ge­netic di­ver­sity in the re­gion.

“Many com­mer­cial geno­typ­ing kits do not cap­ture the ge­netic di­ver­sity ex­ist­ing in Africa, which means that in­di­vid­u­als are dif­fi­cult to dis­crim­i­nate, and there­fore, dif­fi­cult to in­crim­i­nate as per­pe­tra­tors, or elim­i­nate as in­no­cents.

“The de­sign of this kit was com­pleted after eval­u­at­ing the ge­netic di­ver­sity among South African men from dif­fer­ent eth­nic back­grounds,” said D’Amato.

She said beyond crim­i­nal foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tions, a fur­ther spin-off from the new kit was that it could play an im­por­tant role in ge­neal­ogy and fam­ily and an­thro­pol­ogy stud­ies.

The univer­sity has al­ready hosted an in­ter­na­tional work­shop on the ap­pli­ca­tion of the kit, at­tended by var­i­ous po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional aca­demics, and pri­vate South African lab­o­ra­tory rep­re­sen­ta­tives were also in at­ten­dance.

The pro­to­type was de­vel­oped us­ing funds from UWC, the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion, the Tech­nol­ogy and Hu­man Re­sources for In­dus­try Pro­gramme, the Tech­nol­ogy In­no­va­tion Agency, In­qaba Biotec and NEPAD SANBio (South­ern Africa Net­work for Bio­sciences) through the BioFISA II pro­gramme.

This is a Fin­nish-south­ern African part­ner­ship pro­gramme aimed at strength­en­ing the SANBio – started in April 2015 – and will be im­ple­mented un­til June 2019, with a to­tal bud­get of about €7m (R112m).

BioFISA II has in­vested R25m in in­no­va­tions in health and nutri­tion, in­clud­ing R2 480 000 to­wards the foren­sic kit project.

Through this fund­ing, the kit was val­i­dated in Zim­babwe and Le­sotho, and the tech­nol­ogy trans­ferred to the com­mer­cial part­ner, In­qaba Biotec.

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