1. What field of forensic science does the DNA Project focus on?
There are many fields in forensic science and we can only provide you with information on forensic genetics. The DNA Project focuses specifically on the use of DNA from biological material that can be used as evidence in criminal cases. This type of work is
generally done in a laboratory where the scientist will receive evidence from a crime scene, extract DNA from the evidence if possible and thereafter obtain a DNA profile of the individual in question. The DNA profile obtained from crime scene evidence will then
be compared with the DNA profile from a suspect. If they match then it means that the suspect must have been at the crime scene. In contrast if there is no match then the suspect is innocent.
The DNA Project does not have any laboratories of our own and we are not involved with any casework. We function merely as an NGO whose objectives include the implementation of a DNA awareness campaign where we educate people who are likely to be the first at a crime scene on the importance of DNA evidence as well as how to contain and not contaminate a crime scene. In addition, we are lobbying for changes to the existing legislation regarding the use of DNA evidence and a DNA Database to assist
in the detection and conviction of offenders.
2. What subjects do I need to take at school if I want to study to become a forensic DNA analyst?
You will need to take Physical Science, Life Science (Biology) and core Maths for matric in order to be accepted at a University offering a BSc degree in Molecular Biology.
3. How can I study to become a DNA analyst at a forensic science laboratory?
If you are considering a career in Forensic Genetics (DNA) then you would need to complete a B.Sc. and major in Genetics and Biochemistry or Molecular Biology. This can be done at a number of Universities such as Pretoria, University of Cape Town, University of Stellenbosch, University of Free State and University of KZN. The B.Sc. degree takes 3 years to complete. Thereafter you would need to complete an honours degree (1 year) where you would specialise in forensic DNA analysis. Currently there are
two Universities offering such a degree. These are the University of Free State and the University of Cape Town. Such a degree would qualify you for employment at the State Forensic Science Laboratory (part of SAPS) or other private laboratories offering services such as paternity testing.
The contact person at UFS is Dr. Karen Ehlers: EhlersK.SCI@ufs.ac.za
The contact person at UCT is Dr. Marise Heyns: email@example.com
All the above-mentioned courses are offered at postgraduate level at University. Alternatively, a diploma in forensic science is offered by a company called Forensics 4 Africa. In this regard you could contact Pierre Joubert at: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Can I do an internship or job shadow someone at the DNA Project?
The DNA Project does not have any laboratories of their own and are not involved with
any case work. We function merely as an NGO that tries to assist the State Forensic
Science Laboratory to operate more efficiently. At present our primary objectives include
a DNA awareness campaign where we educate people who are likely to be the first at a
crime scene on the importance of DNA evidence as well as how to contain and not
contaminate a crime scene.
Unfortunately due to contamination issues, as well as the sensitive nature of criminal
casework, I do not think it will be possible for you to job shadow anyone at the State
Forensic Science Laboratory. You could however contact one of the private laboratories
to see if they would have anything available. This would give you some idea only of the
type of laboratory work you would be involved with. Some private laboratories include:
Pathcare, Unistel, GENEDiagnostics and Lancet.
5. How do I find out about employment opportunities in the field of forensic biology?
In terms of employment opportunities, your best bet would be to obtain employment within the South African Police Force – the structure under which all disciplines of forensics fall. The State labs are often looking for new staff members. They generally advertise in the Sunday papers and advertise for a number of posts at the same time.
Whenever we are notified of posts that are available you will find the information on our blog. The last advertisement can be found here. Alternatively, you can contact some private laboratories which do work on cases such as paternity testing: Pathcare, Unistel, GENEDiagnostics and Lancet.