Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

 

Facebook Q&A: Ask an Expert with David Swanepoel

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The DNA Project hosted its first ever live Q & A event via our Facebook page on the 19th of March 2014 with fellow DNA awareness trainer and Human Identification Specialist David Swanepoel regarding the topic of forensic DNA analysis.

David Swanepoel – Human Identification Specialist

The following is a full write-up of all questions that were asked by the various participants during the hour-long online event:

Q: DNA and Forensics is a very exciting area to be in. What are the qualifications required to get involved in:

1. DNA testing?
2. Crime Scene Investigation?

It certainly is an exciting field and is growing in leaps and bounds.

1. For DNA testing, it will be necessary to have some molecular biology experience – this could be a degree in molecular biology, or forensic science specifically. I will post further on the courses available in South Africa.

2. For crime scene investigations, it is recommended that you have some qualification in the area of crime scene analysis that you will be working in, i.e. if you are going to collect DNA at the scene, you should have some molecular biology knowledge, if you are working with chemicals/clandestine labs – some knowledge in chemistry would be advantageous. The SAPS has on the job training for crime scene personnel.

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Live Facebook Q&A with David Swanepoel

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Join us for our first ever LIVE Q&A Facebook event with Human Identification Specialist and DNA Project trainer David Swanepoel.

Date: Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Time: 6pm – 7pm South Africa Time (GMT+2)

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/DNA-Project/102740366333

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2nd Annual Forensic Science Services Conference 2014

Friday, February 14th, 2014

This last week Carolyn and I have been spoilt for choice in having the opportunity to attend as well as present at what can only be described as a world class event: the 2nd Annual Forensic Science Services (FSS) Conference which was held this last week in Pretoria from the 10th to the 13th February 2014.

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Lessons from Lyon: feedback from 7th International DNA User’s Conference held at Interpol

Monday, November 25th, 2013

It seems hard to believe that two weeks ago Carolyn and I were sitting at the Interpol’s HQ in Lyon, France where we attended the 7th International DNA User’s Conference. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the OSF-SA, Carolyn and I were able to attend this fascinating forensic DNA conference where I not only had the opportunity to present the provisions of the new DNA Bill in South Africa to the international forensic DNA community, but where we were able to learn more about the latest developments in this technology and hear from other countries about the status of their DNA databases and the laws and regulations which govern their databases, some interesting case studies, research papers as well as debates around misunderstandings of ethical issues oft raised around DNA profiling in a forensic context.

Vanessa Lynch & Carolyn Hancock arriving at the Interpol HQ's in Lyon, France to attend the 7th International DNA User's Conference

Vanessa Lynch & Carolyn Hancock arriving at Interpol's HQ in Lyon, France to attend the 7th International DNA User's Conference

Three particular presentations stood out for both Carolyn and I, namely: Advances in DNA investigations delivered by Prof Manfred Kayser; the latest DNA analysing device called Rapid DNA which is capable of producing a DNA profile directly from a sample within 90 minutes and the highly entertaining joint presentation given by Judge Arthur Tompkins and Dr Simon Walsh discussing the use of DNA profiling in a court of law. There were over 40 different presentations relating to forensic DNA , given over the course of the three days, but I have provided a brief summary of three of our favourite presentations below, as we are sure you will find them as interesting and exciting as we did.

The Keynote presentation delivered by Prof. Manfred Kayser from the Netherlands spoke around the issue of enhancing police operations through the advances in DNA investigations. Prof Kayser calls himself a ‘curiosity driven scientist’ and certainly through the research he is doing, it’s not hard to see why. The first advancement he discussed was around the issue of male specific Y-STR’s (short tandem repeats). As we know, it is difficult to differentiate between different male DNA profiles when a crime scene sample contains more than one DNA profile. These are commonly referred to as ‘mixed profiles’. The research into this area is taking place around looking at mutations present in the DNA profile which will help identify which profile belongs to which suspect. Instead of looking at more markers on the DNA profile, Prof Kayser suggests looking at the ‘mutation rate’ present in a DNA profile — in other words, if you have a marker with a high mutation rate it’s easier to distinguish between related males. Instead of using the current DNA profiling kit called ‘Y-filer’, current research is around developing new kits which use rapid mutation STR’s called RM Y.STRS. If this research results in a useable kit which does indeed differentiate between different male profiles in a mixed profile, this will certainly be useful in South Africa where the incidence of gang rape is so high.

Another fascinating advancement Prof Keyser discussed was the ability to identify the cellular origin of a sample. This is useful when the biological source of the sample is unknown. For example, if the clothing found at a crime scene contains a crime scene stain, it may be useful in an investigation to show if that source is semen, saliva or blood. Prof Kayser submits that they will soon be able to differentiate between biological sources as varied as saliva, ‘touch DNA’ (i.e., skin cells), blood, hairs, blood, menstrual blood, semen and vaginal secretions.

Interpol HQ's Lyon

Waiting for a bus outside Interpol's HQ

Currently we are not able to establish from a DNA sample, how old it is, which would help indicate when the crime was committed. We are also not able to say at what time of the day it was deposited. This however may soon be possible as research is being conducted by looking at the melatonin and cortisol in a DNA sample to determine the time of day and age of that sample.

These advancements may all be well and good, but often one only has a single, precious DNA sample from a crime scene to work with, and in that case, because the amount of DNA is so limited, all of these tests would not be able to be performed. Prof Keyser reports that this issue may be overcome with the use of what he calls a ‘DNA Chip’ which takes a snip from one DNA sample and allows many different test to be performed using a single DNA chip.

Exciting stuff, and certainly in South Africa, these types of advancements would greatly enhance police investigations.

The issue of back logs and delays is an oft spoken about subject, and South Africa is not the only country where complaints are levelled at our Forensic Science Labs for delays in processing DNA samples… Imagine now if a law enforcement agent (as they are referred to in the USA – i.e. a police officer) was able to take a sample from an arrestee, pop it into a machine and send a request to securely submit the resultant DNA profile to the DNA Database within 90 minutes of loading that sample. This may sound farfetched, but ‘Rapid DNA technology’, as it is commonly known, is very real. And we were there to prove it. During a tea break, Carolyn and I submitted our DNA saliva samples to a Rapid DNA machine, and 90 minutes later were emailed our DNA profile! Whilst this technology is still being rolled out and is only capable of analysing 5 samples per run, in those instances where a quick result is required, this would be priceless. The advantages of this technology are that it can be performed by nontechnical users outside of the lab, i.e., police officers, there is no manual processing of the sample, the machines do not require calibration or data interpretation and it literally provides out of the box functionality. Oh, and it also doesn’t matter what type of sample is dropped into the cartridge!

What to do for an hour and a half in Lyon... hmm... Shopping? Sightseeing? Create a DNA profile?... Oh, absolutely YES please! Vanessa and Carolyn had the wonderful chance to submit their DNA samples to be tested in the new rapid DNA analyzer... 90 minutes later their profiles were ready! Simply amazing!

What to do for an hour and a half in Lyon... hmm... Shopping? Sightseeing? Create a DNA profile?... Oh, absolutely YES please! Vanessa and Carolyn had the wonderful chance to submit their DNA samples to be tested in the new rapid DNA analyzer... 90 minutes later their profiles were ready! Simply amazing!

The last but by no means least of the presentations over the course of the three days was the highly entertaining joint presentation by New Zealand Judge Arthur Tompkins and Australian Forensic Scientist Dr Simon Walsh entitled ‘That’s the defendants DNA!’. This lively debate discussed the issue of probabilities and the way in which scientists express the probability of a defendant having the same DNA profile as the crime scene profile, in court. As we well know, the weight of admissibility of any type of evidence is based on certainty, and if evidence is expressed as a probability, it may lead some to think that because it is not expressed as a certainty, its admissibility is thereby negatively affected. Dr Walsh has had firsthand experience of this in court where DNA evidence despite being presented as a probability so remote (i.e., one in an octillion chance of two people having the same DNA profile) led it to be dismissed because it was not expressed as a ‘certainty’. Dr Walsh then looked at how discriminating DNA is as evidence, and the fact that with the advances in technology in this

Vanessa and Carolyn enjoying a quick break outside the Interpol headquarters with fellow guest speaker Tim Zolandz of the FBI (CODIS Missing Persons / International Progam Manager).

Vanessa and Carolyn enjoying a quick break outside the Interpol headquarters with fellow guest speaker Tim Zolandz of the FBI (CODIS Missing Persons / International Progam Manager).

arena, the probabilities of two people having the same DNA profile are even smaller. In other words, if the probability or likelihood of another person having the same DNA profile as that of the crime scene sample, are one in an octillion which is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 i.e. ten to the forty-eighth power, and there are only around 7 billion [7,000,000,000 i.e. ten to the power of nine] people in the world, then the weight of admissibility in respect of that evidence, you will agree, is extremely high!. Dr Walsh has suggested then that the way a probability as high as this is expressed in court should be changed and perhaps instead of expressing it in probabilities one should simply say there is more chance of you being hit by a meteor or eaten by a shark than there is of having the same DNA profile of another person. A leap of faith needs to be taken by scientists to express it as a certainty then, because the science is robust enough to allow for it. But these are issues of law, and Judge Arthur Tompkins reckons that in the words of Albert Einstein, if you can’t explain it simply enough then you don’t understand it well enough! As a Judge, he acknowledges that the likelihood ratios are getting bigger and bigger the more loci we use to identify a person through DNA profiling. But what he can’t understand is why the forensic experts won’t just say that IS the defendants DNA! He questions why they won’t simply do this and whether they are legally liable to do so now because the science is robust enough to allow for it.

7th International DNA User's Conference delegates

7th International DNA User's Conference delegates

So: why won’t scientists take the next step? Perhaps it is because the statistical analysis has not simply answered the question the justice system is asking and that is: is this proof beyond reasonable doubt that it is the defendant’s DNA?

Simply answered, yes it is.

They are not seeking the scientific or statistical answer. They are asking is this proof beyond reasonable doubt that it does. This high standard of proof in a criminal court of law as opposed to absolute proof, is enough for all other forms of evidence, so should be enough for DNA too, which is probably the most reliable form of evidence available today!

So the question is: Are you sure?
And if the scientists are sure, why don’t they simply say: yes, I’m sure?
So if as a forensic scientist, and if you are sure, then you can say that you are sure.
And you should say you are sure!
Sounds a bit like Dr Seuss, which to me always made sense anyway!

The above three presentations were just some of the highlights of the three days spent listening to over 47 countries present over 40 subjects in this fascinating field. Not only did we enjoy every one, but the camaraderie and friendships that were renewed and made, were very special.

The Interpol Conference is unique insofar as it is a relatively small group of people passionate about their work and the advances in this technology, who are able to mix on both a professional and social level too. Every evening Carolyn and I were joined by different people from different countries where we shared our stories over French food and wine, and many laughs.

Vanessa and Carolyn with Susan Hitchin, Forensics Sub-Directorate at Interpol

Vanessa and Carolyn with Susan Hitchin, Forensics Sub-Directorate at Interpol

It was with sad hearts that we said goodbye to everyone on the last day, and to the beautiful city of Lyon, where hopefully we will be invited to participate in the next and 8th International DNA User’s conference.

Thank you OSF-SA for enabling us to participate in this incredible forum.

Vanessa Lynch

If you want to have your say, read how…

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

You have until the 30th May 2013 to stand up and be counted in South Africa’s fight against crime.

Every day innocent people needlessly become victims of violent crimes in our country. Most of these are committed by repeat offenders. By sending a strong message to the South African Government to pass legislation that enables law enforcers to collect DNA from arrestees and convicted offenders we can catch criminals sooner. That means you can help prevent most of these crimes, save more lives, and provide more protection to the innocent. Sign up today to show that you believe that the proposed DNA legislation, officially known as The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill B09-2013 currently before Parliament should be made law. If passed, this law will revolutionise crime scene investigation in South Africa in line with best international practice and increase the number of convictions secured.

Stand up and be counted!

Stand up and be counted!

The Portfolio Committee on Police has invited all interested people to submit written comments on the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill by no later than the 30 May 2013. You can also sign our petition by clicking on the following link Sign our petition here and show your support to Pass the DNA Legislation!

If you believe that our Government should pass this vitally important legislation, then please show your support and  draft a submission to Parliament. Written submissions addressed to the Portfolio Committee on Police, should be directed to the Committee Secretary, Babalwa Mbengo, and posted to P. O. Box 15, Cape Town 8000, or e-mailed to bmbengo@parliament.gov.za or faxed to 086 665 5444.  You must indicate your interest in making a verbal presentation to the Committee in your submission, should you wish to do so.

You may wish to include in your submission some or all of the following points:

As a concerned South African citizen, I welcome the introduction of the Criminal Law (Forensics Procedures) Bill into Parliament and support its promulgation into law as a matter of extreme urgency to help fight crime in our country. The passing of this Bill, in its current form,  into law will help identify serial offenders at an early stage of the investigation as well as link perpetrators to their crimes through an objective and reliable science. It will also ensure that the innocent are exonerated.

  • The existing DNA Database in South Africa which has through default, evolved under the governance of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, is a wholly inadequate tool for regulating the use and retention of DNA profiles on a National DNA Database. The new Bill ensures that the future of the current DNA Database is expanded and managed in a regulated and appropriate manner.
  • I endorse the provision that makes it mandatory to take DNA samples from suspects at the time of arrest and believe that it should extend to all arrestees and not just those arrested for schedule one offences.
  • It is imperative to ensure that all convicted offenders DNA samples are taken retrospectively and before their release from prison.
  • I further support the provision that trained Police Officers be allowed to take non intimate DNA samples from arrestees and convicted offenders. The collection of a non-intimate DNA sample by a specially trained police officer from an arrestee or convicted offender ensures that a sample is quickly and easily uplifted. The “invasiveness” of the methods of obtaining DNA samples (rubbing a swab around the person’s mouth, or obtaining a drop or two of blood from a pin-prick to a finger), are no different to having a breathalyser taken on suspicion of drunken driving.
  • The DNA Bill ensures the creation of a DNA database in South Africa that will function effectively not only as a tool for gathering inculpatory evidence, but also for gathering exculpatory evidence, to appropriately eliminate suspects and so safeguard against wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice.
  • The way in which the DNA profiles are stored on the DNA Database, namely by using markers from the non coded regions of a person’s DNA ensures that no genetic disposition or other distinguishing feature may be read from that profile other than gender. The retention of the profile, in that form, is the same as a fingerprint, and therefore its retention does not impact on the privacy of the individual in any way whatsoever.
  • The creation of a Reference Index, Crime Scene Index and Convicted Offender Index ensures that DNA profiles are appropriately stored and managed.
  • The DNA Bill adequately retains an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals and the respect for privacy. The new Bill has been carefully drafted to ensure that  the DNA Database is maximized to its full potential in combating and preventing crime in South Africa, whilst still ensuring that it has minimal impact on the civil rights of its citizens.
  • The Bill importantly calls for an Oversight Committee to be formed which will monitor the implementation of this legislation. The Oversight Committee will monitor the collection and storage of samples, the performance of the Forensic Science Laboratory and the National Forensic DNA Database. The Board will ensure compliance with ethical and privacy issues and ensure minimum quality standards are set and adhered to. Over time the Oversight Committee will establish the effectiveness of the legislation in the fight against crime and review the Bill in order that any necessary changes are made to maximise the efficiency of the use of the Database as a criminal intelligence tool.
  • The  DNA Bill shows that the Government has explicitly tackled the scourge of crime in South Africa by demonstrating that if there is any perceived intrusion on an individual through the retention of their DNA profile, it is outweighed by a demonstrated and long awaited  interest in protecting its citizens against serious and violent and crimes.
  • In order to ensure the successful implementation of this legislation, I believe that First-on-crime scene police investigators, as well as key personnel involved in crime scenes, including the private security and emergency services sector, must be trained in how to identify, collect and preserve DNA evidence at crime scenes, so that critical evidence can be collected and fewer cases will be at risk of being jeopardised due to the mishandling of evidence. In addition, officers of the courts must be educated in how DNA evidence technology works to corroborate a case against a suspect or exonerate a suspect quickly, thereby decreasing delays in court.
  • The public interest which is served by the new Bill, is important, especially in cases of violent crime where DNA matching has been proven  to be invaluable in matching a suspect to a crime scene. I believe the Bill, when passed,  will have a profound impact on the criminal justice system in South Africa.

Robbie Hunter chooses to Change Lives

Monday, October 29th, 2012

One of our ‘sister’ projects, which is also sponsored by The Change a Life Trust, is an organisation called I Choose to Change a Life,  a turnaround programme that helps youngsters in conflict with the law to develop valuable leadership skills. The Valued Citizens Initiative (VCI) – launched ten years ago by Carole Podetti Ngono – lies behind this inspirational programme. Since 2001 VCI has trained more than 3 500 educators and 420 000 school children from 1 605 public schools across Limpopo, Gauteng, Free State and KawZulu-Natal. Its success lies in its ability to inspire children to respect positive values, take responsibility for their civic rights and abide by the rule of law.

Last Friday, our top South African cyclist, Robbie Hunter joined ‘wheels’ with some fellow cyclists and rode through Soweto in our awesome DNA Project cycling shirts to celebrate the remarkable achievements of six Soweto Primary Schools. This type of camaraderie is critical to the future of our country: and the rehabilitation of young offenders is an integral part of this process.

There are so many organisations doing great things – so many incredibly passionate people choosing to make a difference in our country. And every little bit counts. How do you create a forest? Start by planting a tree. Just one tree. I think the same goes for building up a nation – if we all just do something small, there is no limit to what we could achieve together.

Vanessa

Robbie Hunter with Change a Life cyclists donning our great shirts to raise awareness

Robbie Hunter with Change a Life cyclists donning our great shirts to raise awareness

More about “I Choose to Change a Life”:
iChoose to Change a Life selects youngsters with leadership potential from VCI’s youth diversion programme, which is supported by the Johannesburg, Wynburg and Randburg Childrens’ courts. In recent years there has been a shift from punitive criminal justice practices towards more rehabilitative options in South Africa. Of the 5 000 children whose cases are heard in SA’s courts each month, 1 500 are channelled into diversion programmes such as VCI’s. Young offenders aged between 13 and 21 are encouraged to develop a positive self-image, rebuild family relationships and learn communication skills and emotional intelligence. iChoose to Change a Life is a six-month leadership course focused on diverted offenders who have shown particular commitment and are inspired towards implementing positive change. About 30 youngsters complete the leadership course each year and are encouraged to launch their own anti-crime projects within their communities.

In South Africa an average of 13 000 children are arrested each month for crime. Continued exposure to victimisation, crime and violence has a marked impact on social development and for many young South Africans criminal behaviour has become normalised. In 2011 iChoose to Change a Life launched a series of Stand Against Crime clubs in vulnerable schools in Gauteng to raise awareness and encourage students to deal with issues around crime.

DNA Project cyclists taking to the streets of Soweto with Robbie Hunter

DNA Project cyclists taking to the streets of Soweto with Robbie Hunter

DNA Project invited to attend Official Opening of the W.Cape Forensic Science Lab.

Monday, July 16th, 2012

The recently appointed National Commissioner of Police, General Phiyega has extended an invitation to The DNA Project to attend the official opening of the Western Cape’s new Forensic Science Lab in Plattekloof, tomorrow, 17th July 2012.

This promises to be a truly exciting event where the state of the art DNA laboratory will be showcased, amongst the other forensic disciplines situated in the new lab. This bodes well for the future of forensic science in South Africa as not only will the new lab address the need for increased capacity in this area, but it will also allow for more efficient processing of forensic cases due to the cutting edge technology being housed in the new lab.

The DNA Project has in addition been asked to appear on Morning Live tomorrow, 17th July 2012 and will be interviewed by etv in the wake of the new DNA Policy adopted by the Portfolio Committee for Police and how the new forensic lab will impact on the Committee’s expectations in terms of increased capacity which the new legislation will demand.

Vanessa Lynch will be representing the DNA Project tomorrow at the opening of the lab as well as on Morning Live and will provide live updates and photographs on facebook and twitter during the course of day. Watch this space to share in this historical event.

Forensic Science Invite

inqaba biotec and BODE Technology to host 2nd Annual African DNA Forensic conference 2010

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

inqaba biotec and BODE Technology to host

2nd Annual African DNA Forensic conference 2010

DNA
The 2nd Annual African DNA Forensics Conference

to  be  held  on 28 and 29 October 2010 in Pretoria,

will   bring  together  leading  experts  in  the  DNA

Forensics  field  from  the  disciplines  of  Science,

Law  and  Human  Rights.

Held over two days in Pretoria,  it will allow for

interactive and in-depth discussions. This will

ensure that the knowledge  of DNA Forensics is

made accessible to non-scientists while  also

allowing  for experts to  share their experiences.

JUDGEMENT
Download conference brochure
Call for presentation abstracts
Please Note : Additional technical workshops will be hosted before the conference
Workshop name When Where
Forensic Genetics step-by-step: from crime scene to the court room 21-22 Oct Cape Town
Quick guide to DNA Forensics: for lawyers and other creatures 23 Oct Cape Town
Quick guide to DNA Forensics: for laywers and other creatures 25 Oct Pretoria
Forensic Genetics step-by-step: from crime scene to the court room 26-27 Oct Pretoria
Download workshop brochure
See conference webpage
Register for the 2nd Annual African DNA Forensics Conference
Register for one of the Technical Workshops

Brief company profile

inqaba biotec is a genomics company based in Pretoria, South Africa. We cater for the life science needs of academic and private institutions alike in Africa.

inqaba biotec’s offerings include our own products and services such as :

  • Oligonucleotide synthesis
  • Sanger sequencing service using the ABI 3130XL and ABI 3500XL sequencers
  • High-throughput DNA sequencing service using a Roche /454 GS FLX sequencer
  • Customised services like amplicon cloning, library construction, microsatellite screenings etc.
  • Bioinformatics solutions and support

inqaba biotec also distributes molecular reagents and kits, molecular diagnostic products and laboratory equipment.


inqaba biotec upgrades to the GS FLX Titanium

Our GS technology platform, now entering its third year of operation has seen an upgrade from the GS 20 to the GS FLX, and now with the introduction of the GS FLX Titanium kits is set to break all biotechnology boundaries. Already having generated ~3.0 GB of data on our platform, the new Titanium kits are set to revolutionise sequencing as they generate an amazing 500 MB per run!

For more information about our platform, please click here.

inqaba biotec

Murder mystery in JHB

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Many of you may have heard of our very own “DNA Detective”, Prof Valerie Corfield? Renowned for her innovative and inventive teaching methodologies, Prof. Valerie Corfield is one of our appointed DNA Awareness trainers, based in the Western Cape. If you haven’t seen her in action, you should put it on your ‘bucket list’. Prof Corfield has the ability to transcend all boundaries in such a way that you are not even aware that you are actually learning something at the same time.

Learning about 'ice breakers' in training from Prof Corfield

Prof Corfield in action

Next week the ‘Prof. of DNA’ will facilitate a murder mystery evening in JHB at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre to raise awareness about DNA technology in South Africa. If you can, I encourage you to go and play ‘CSI detective’ with this DNA Detective on Tuesday, 7 September at 6:30 pm. You will enjoy an evening full of plots, sub plots, intrigue and numerous contradictions as you determine the modus operandi and sift through multiple motives to identify the murderer. The Prof will make you interview witnesses and suspects, gather evidence and decide for yourself what really happened one dark night in Newtown.

But in all seriousness, the murder mystery evening at Sci-Bono has actually been designed to allow you to explore the science of DNA profiling and find out more about how forensic DNA databases can be used as a tool to catch criminals. You will be invited to join the discussion about the ethics of DNA profiling and decide for yourself if South Africa needs a criminal intelligence DNA database.

TITLE: MYSTERIOUS MURDER OF DR. NOALL X PLOR  – DNA profiling in South Africa.

DATE: Tuesday 7 September

TIME: 6:30 pm for 7:00 pm

VENUE: The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre

RSVP: speaktoascientist@sci-bono.co.za or call Refilwe Pico at 011 639 8448

In the meantime we have been extremely busy making contact with countless security companies, police reservist clusters, paramedics, CPF’s and any other groups whose personnel may arrive first on a crime scene – we have been offering FREE DNA Awareness workshops throughout South Africa in an effort to educate people about the importance of preserving DNA evidence at a crime scene and how that evidence can be used in helping solve crime. We have qualified trainers in most provinces and have printed materials which we hand out to trainees FREE of charge to facilitate these workshops.

Workshop in JHB at Tracker being filmed by SS1

Workshop in JHB at Tracker being filmed by SS1

We have raised the funds to create this awareness, yet it is amazing how slow organizations have been to take up this incredible opportunity. There is no catch. This is what we are about – we want to promote DNA awareness in South Africa and the more people who are aware of its amazing potential in crime fighting, the better. Pleasecontact us so that we can arrange a workshop for your organization or CPF – alternatively SPREAD the word. We can have all the legislation, scientists, facilities and equipment in place – but if we don’t preserve the evidence for proper collection – all that is worth nothing.

Please let us know if you or your organization would be interested in helping us host a training session/s and we will send you further information. Email Maya, our training coordinator at maya@dnaproject.co.za

with thanks

Vanessa

ps – below a few images from some of our workshops held in Gauteng and KZN.


Carte Blanche features Vanessa Lynch talking about DNA Legislation

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

DNA
Date: 22 August 2010 07:00
Producer: Eugene Botha
Presenter: Chantal Rutter
Show: Carte Blanche
To watch the show on-line click here for part one and click here for part two of the story.

1979: A grim scene in a Los Angeles suburb. An elderly woman is found dead on the floor of her kitchen. There’s evidence that she was also sexually assaulted.

David Doan (Deputy Chief: LAPD): ‘There were a number of leads on that case. There was even a possible suspect – a neighbour – but there was not enough evidence to establish that he committed the crime.’

But the case went cold, says David Doan, Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

David: ‘What we refer to as ‘cold cases’ means a case where the trail has gone cold on leads… there are no further leads.’

All the evidence, including clothing stained with semen, was put into storage. But the case was not forgotten.

David: ‘Here in the Los Angeles Police Department we never close our homicide cases, we always consider them open.’

In 2003, 18 years after the murder, DNA profiling had become a useful tool in solving crimes.

Cold case detectives re-investigated the case. They sent the victim’s clothing for analysis and obtained a DNA profile of the murderer.

This unknown profile was then entered into their DNA database system, known as CODIS.

David: ‘In 2009 an individual was stopped for driving a stolen vehicle. His DNA was taken and we received what we refer to as a ‘cold case match’. He happened to be 17 years old at the time when he committed the crime and he was 51 years old when we identified him as the suspect in the case – another example of an individual who would not have been held accountable for the murder of this elderly woman if it had not been for a DNA database.’

And, all over the world, DNA profiling and DNA databases have become major tools in crime fighting.

David: ‘I cannot imagine doing police work today without DNA no more than I would be comfortable today seeing police work without fingerprints and photographs.’

One would think that using DNA in this way would be standard practice wherever profiling is available. But it’s not.

The LA murderer would never have been caught in South Africa, and not because of backlogs.

There’s another reason.

Vanessa Lynch (Director: DNA Project): ‘Where we fall short is that we’re not progressing with our legislation as we should.’

Vanessa Lynch is Director of the DNA Project, and promotes the use of a DNA as a crime fighting tool. She says the SAPS’s DNA profiling capabilities are excellent.

Vanessa: ‘The quality of the processing, the DNA analysis that is coming out of our laboratories, is in fact superior.’

Although we’ve often reported on the massive backlogs in processing forensic evidence by both the police and the Health Department, the DNA profiling unit at the Police Science Laboratory is apparently world-class and delays are minimal.

Vanessa says the problem is that current legislation is outdated and prevents the full use of DNA to solve crimes. New forensic legislation has already been sitting before a parliamentary committee for more than two years.

Vanessa: ‘But what they did was they split it between fingerprints and DNA. Initially it dealt with both. The committee has just passed Phase 1 of the bill, which is fingerprint, and now it has been passed through the national assembly and various areas of parliament. They will then look at Phase 2. They have decided, however, that they want to go on an overseas tour to both the UK and Canada to look at how other systems operate.’

While our legislators are battling, other countries have addressed many of the problems pertaining to forensic DNA profiling.

To understand the issues involved, one first has to understand what forensic DNA profiling entails.

Colonel Luhein Frazenburg of the SAPS’s Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria explains.

Col Luhein Frazenburg (Commanders: DNA Case Work): ‘Basically what we do here is we do all DNA analysis for all DNA cases in South Africa. Blood samples, semen samples, saliva, any human tissue is tested here.’

Chantal Rutter (Carte Blanche presenter): ‘Colonel, what is DNA?’

Col Frazenburg: ‘DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid. It is a molecule that’s present in all living cells. It’s the genetic blueprint of a person. Now basically half of your DNA you get from your mother and half of your DNA you get from your father. Also, your DNA does not differ over your lifespan and all your DNA is the same whether you look at your hair samples, your blood samples, bone, or tissue samples.’

Luhein showed us around the state-of-the-art forensic science laboratory.

Chantal: ‘This is something really special. It’s one-of-a-kind and it is right here at the police forensic laboratory in Pretoria.’

It’s the only fully automated DNA profiling system in the world and was developed right here in South Africa. It can process 800 samples a week. And it’s in part thanks to this machine that there are no DNA profiling backlogs in Pretoria and only a few in the Cape.

DNA profiling entails extracting and analysing a DNA strand from a human cell.

Vanessa: ‘95% of your DNA, they in fact don’t know what it codes for. About 5% of your DNA they know you have blue eyes or two legs… two arms, etc. But the 95% which they call ‘junk DNA’ or ‘non-coded DNA’ in fact doesn’t code for anything that they understand.’

There are millions of these pieces of non-specific DNA.

Vanessa: ‘They only take nine numbers out of those millions of markers of your non-coded DNA and that’s all they need to identify you as an individual.’

Each of these nine selected areas on the DNA strand contains contributions by one’s parents. They can be expressed by a pair of numbers. So, in effect, your forensic DNA profile consists of a list of nine pairs of numbers.

The chance of two people having the same numbers in the nine pairs is one in 79 trillion. In the US, they use 13 pairs of numbers for a forensic profile.

Vanessa says that the lack of proper DNA legislation in South Africa prevents the police from fully utilising this invaluable identification tool to solve crimes.

For example, current laws don’t allow for DNA evidence obtained at all crime scenes to be processed.

Vanessa: ‘If you collect DNA evidence from a crime scene, but you don’t have suspect, they won’t process that DNA profile.’

Furthermore, our outdated legislation prevents the police and other law enforcement officers from taking DNA samples from suspects.

Vanessa: ‘A DNA sample currently is taken by way of a syringe by a medical practitioner. This is by virtue of an old 1977 act which was promulgated long before the advent of DNA profiling.’

And, under current legislation, the right of an individual to privacy is perhaps the main issue. Taking a DNA sample and preserving it on a database is seen as an invasion of privacy.

So unless DNA was involved in convicting them, the DNA profiles aren’t taken from convicted murderers, or rapists already serving time. Vanessa thinks privacy fears are unfounded.
Vanessa: ‘Even if somebody, for instance, got hold of the DNA database and looked at those sequence of numbers, there is nothing they can do with them. They cannot read any genetic disposition, whether physical or medical, from those sequence of numbers. And that is why throughout the world it has never been challenged constitutionally. It does not represent an invasion of privacy and we need to understand this in South Africa.’

So maybe another overseas trip for parliamentarians is not such a bad idea after all.

Vanessa: ‘Perhaps they’ll realise when going there, not only that it is successful in terms of crime resolution, crime investigation, and ultimately crime prevention, but also that all the issues that they are concerned about have legitimately been addressed by virtue of legislation that has been passed that shows that it is not an invasion of rights and that it is okay for a police officer to take a swab from you in order to take a DNA sample.’

David: ‘I think we need to find a compromise between a right to privacy and an ability for law enforcement to find people who have committed some pretty heinous crimes. And I think the method that we’re using currently gives you that balance.’

And if these issues can be resolved, our tiny DNA database of 123 000 profiles could be significantly expanded. It could then be used for cross-referencing like databases elsewhere in the world.

Chantal: ‘So, in what way do you think legislation should be changed?’

Col Frazenburg: ‘Well, it would be advisable to have as many as possible of arrestees on the database so that you can compare that to the crime samples that we get it.’

In parts of the world where national DNA databases have been implemented, crime solving has skyrocketed. And there’s another benefit.

Vanessa: ‘It becomes such a strong form of evidence that when a suspect is presented with a positive DNA match that links them to the crime they plead guilty. In the UK, 82% of suspects that are presented with this type of evidence, plead guilty – 82%! You can imagine what that does to your criminal justice administration.’

Deputy Chief Doan says those cases solved with DNA profiles did not violate anyone’s rights.

David: ‘We don’t think these people’s privacy, the suspects’ privacies, were violated because I don’t know anything about their genetic history. I simply know what their DNA looks like in 13 places.’

But until we have new DNA legislation in place, criminals will continue to get away with murder in this country.

Vanessa: ‘I think it needs to be urgently addressed because I think two years is already too long to have waited to pass this urgently required legislation.’