News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Monday July 22nd 2019

New DNA forensic technology takes aim at rapists

Professor Sean Davison, Head of UWC's DNA Forensics Laboratory, and research scientist Dr. Eugenia D' Amato have developed a DNA forensic kit that will increase SA's rape conviction rate. Photo: WCN

A unique DNA forensic kit, which researchers say will be able to increase South Africa’s conviction rate in rape cases, particularly gang rapes, has been developed by scientists at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).Professor Sean Davison, Head of UWC’s DNA Forensics Laboratory, said the new technology, which has taken three years to develop, will make it easier to identify male perpetrators, and in cases where there was more than one rapist, be able to separate the perpetrators individual DNA.

This was because they had developed a means to isolate the Y-chromosome from the paternal line.

“Since a father passes on his Y-chromosome to his son, they have identical Y-chromosomes,” he said.

Existing technology in current forensic kits is unable to identify individual male perpetrators in a case of multiple rape as it examines autosomal chromosomes – those found in both men and women – but female DNA is screened out with the new technology, therefore making it easier to identify the male perpetrators, said Davison.

Additionally, UWC research scientist Dr. Eugenia D’Amato, who headed the breakthrough research, said semen samples taken from the victim also contained the victim’s DNA and thus existing DNA kits looked at the profile of both the perpetrator and victim.

This meant DNA evidence could be “confounded”. By examining only the Y-chromosomes in a sample, only the profile of the perpetrator was identified.

Davison said they were certain that the kit, which is fully tested and operational, would help increase the rape conviction rate in South Africa, which has a high incidence of gang rape.


The latest research conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation three years ago showed the rape conviction rate in South Africa to be as low as 4.7%.

CSVR gender based violence team programme manager Carrie Shelver said conviction rates of cases heard in the specialized sexual offences court were higher than the national average, but the Department of Justice intended to close these courts down.

Although similar forensic kits have been developed in Europe and the USA, they have been found to be ineffective on South African populations as the kits do not recognize the genetic diversity of African populations.

D’Amato said she was “very proud” of the fact that all the work had been intellectually and technically developed by UWC.

Davison said that the new technology would be made available to the South African Police and UWC forensic scientists would be prepared to collaborate with them, as UWC has a new forensic laboratory equipped to carry out forensic testing of this nature.

National Prosecuting Authority regional communications manager Eric Ntabazalila said the new forensic kit had not been presented to them but that the NPA would be meeting with UWC and other stakeholders to discuss it. – Fadela Slamdien, West Cape News

Tags: dna forensics laboratory, dna kits, University of the Western Cape, university of the western cape uwc

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