Scientists at the University of the Western Cape say they’ve developed an updated DNA profiling kit aimed at identifying sexual offenders and boosting the fight against gender-based and sexual crimes.
The university says a reference DNA database developed during the process also goes a long way in confirming South Africa’s diversity.
Gender-based violence has been described as the second pandemic in South Africa. According to the latest crime stats, over 11 000 rapes were reported between October and the end of December last year. The overwhelming majority of the victims are women.
The university says the UniQ-Typer Y-10 DNA profiling kit, developed by researchers at the institution more than two decades ago was designed to help identify perpetrators of sexual assaults and other gender-specific crimes by distinguishing between male and female DNA.
“This profiling kit is able to do that where it can distinguish between the male from the female DNA, but takes it a step further than that where there’s more than one accused and identify DNA between males even if they are related like brothers. So the Hollywood idea of using DNA in crime-fighting, especially where rape cases are concerned is that you can take a swap, stick it in a computer and then a picture will pop up of a suspect, unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that,” says University of the Western Cape, Gasant Abarder.
The university says the study used to develop the kit has taken the DNA of some 2 000 South African males that identified 16 different ethnic groups.
“For the first time, what is exciting outside of the crime-fighting bubble is that we can now look at unique ancestry of South Africans and Africans in the Southern African region and that’s quite exciting for the university. We see ourselves as a research-led institution, with a special focus on relevance not only in the local and national context but internationally as well and we try and achieve research that is relevant to addressing sustainable development goals the 19 that’s set by the United Nations,” Abarder adds.
The countrywide backlog of DNA testing has had a major impact on the ability of the courts to bring perpetrators to book.
“There’s not a lot of faith in the criminal justice system at the moment in terms of solving cases like rape and that in turn leads to an underreporting where victims don’t feel that their cases will be prosecuted, so we believe this is going to be a massive breakthrough in terms of addressing the high rates of under prosecution and under-reporting as well,” Abarder elaborates.
Efforts are afoot for the kit to be commercially developed as UWC works with two partners in the SADC region and locally. While it’s too soon at this stage to say when police labs will be able to use the updated kits, the university has described the study as a breakthrough.