Institutions offering the course


Department of Genetics - University of the Free State

The University of the Free State (UFS) is one of South Africa's oldest universities, and celebrated its centenary in 2004. The University is a multicultural and multi-lingual institution with parallel-medium instruction (English and Afrikaans). The University is recognised as a leader in transformation and is committed to serving the community.

The Department of Genetics at the University of Free State offers undergraduate courses in genetics where the science of heredity is studied on the molecular level (DNA and gene expression), the cellular level (studies of chromosomes) and the level of the organism (population genetics). At undergraduate level Genetics forms part of the introductory biology at first year level and is presented as a complete subject from the second year. At post graduate level students may specialise in Forensic Genetics, Conservation Genetics, Population Genetics, Cytotaxonomy, Molecular Systematics, Behavioural Genetics or combinations of these fields.

Research is very important to the Department and the post-graduate specialisation fields form the basis of various research projects on plants, animals and humans. The Department has a high publication output and research is done in collaboration with various research groups in South Africa and the USA.

Since 2010, the Department of Genetics have been offering an honours programme with a specialisation in forensic DNA analysis. Students wishing to apply for entry to the honours programme should have a B. Sc. Degree with majors in Genetics, Biochemistry or Molecular Biology. Students who have not completed their undergraduate studies at the University of the Free State will have to possess a fundamental knowledge of DNA forensics as well as population genetics — third year modules currently taken by undergraduate students majoring in Genetics at UFS.

Modules and course content: Honours in Genetics with a specialisation in Forensic DNA analysis

GEN686 — Techniques course (24 credits)

  • Scientific writing & presentation
  • IT skills — Spreadsheets, Powerpoint
  • Logical thinking skills
  • Time management
  • Preparation of chemicals and buffer
  • Lab safety
  • Pipetting - Maintenance, verification and calibration requirements for DNA instrumentation
  • DNA extraction (Organic, Chelex, Qiagen, differential extraction, QIA Cube)
  • Overview of PCR - Commonly used commercial kits and ladders,
  • DNA quantification (Agarose gel electrophoresis, Nanodrop and ABI7900)
  • Electrophoresis (ABI3130) — Includes maintenance of the ABI3130 for e.g, changing capillaries and the removal of air bubbles.
  • STR genotyping — Gene-Mapper / Geneious

GEN692 — Research project (32 credits)

  • Six months to do a DNA forensic research project. This will give the students an opportunity to practice all the new techniques learned in the techniques course. Projects can include:
  • Testing different extraction methods on severely degraded samples.
  • Determining the quantity and quality of DNA extracted from samples treated with presumptive tests chemicals.
  • Examination consists of an oral presentation and a written report.

GEN693 — Literature review (24 credits)

  • Students have to write a literature review over a topic in DNA forensic work. Reviews can include:
  • How many STR markers should one use to safely identify an individual?
  • Should SNP markers replace the use of STR markers in DNA forensic work?
  • Examination consists of an oral presentation and a written report.

GEN664 — Forensic DNA Typing (16 credits)

  • Overview of DNA principles (DNA structure, Mendel, methods of measuring DNA variation)
  • PCR (theory — primers design, inhibitors, multiplex etc)
  • STRs (theory — profiler plus, microvariants, artefacts, mixture, null alleles, stutter etc)
  • Parentage testing, kinship, trisomy and rare alleles
  • Contamination
  • Laboratory validation and proficiency tests
  • Accreditation and quality control (ISO17025 & SANAS)

GEN654 — Conservation Genetics (16 credits)

  • Determining levels of genetic diversity and Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium within populations (MS TOOLKIT, BOTTLENECK and other appropriate software)
  • Genetic drift and differentiation between populations (ARLEQUIN, FSTAT and other appropriate software)
  • Assignment testing — frequency and Bayesian based approaches (GENECLASS and STRUCTURE software)
  • Testing for linkage disequilibrium.
  • Application of above measures and software for detecting inbreeding, unique geographic genetic variants (ESUs), hybrids and for application in wildlife forensics.
  • To this will be added for the next two years:
  • Probabilities (Bayesian statistics, database analyses)
  • Analysis of population databases and calculation of allele and genotype frequencies and match probabilities
  • Application of DNA intelligence screening in forensic investigations

GEN684 — Crime scene investigations and the legal system (16 credits)

  • Theory and principles of crime scene analysis and reconstruction (international forensic standards)
  • Collection, packaging and preservation of biological evidence from different crime scenes (e.g. sexual assault kit)
  • Identification of biological fluids - Presumptive tests
  • Legislative framework in South Africa & legal considerations at the crime scene — procedures — chain of custody
  • Determination of the purpose of the crime evaluation, review and analysis of evidence
  • Preparation of accurate presentation aids, written reports and statements
  • Presentation of verbal and written reports to court
  • Court procedures, protocols and structures
  • Relevant legislation required for presenting expert evidence
  • Ethical and legislative aspects of DNA database intelligence