Cape Town – 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 100000 women were victims of sexual abuse.
Sexual assaults went down from 69197 to 50108 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.