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 specialization 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. UFS also now offers a part time B. Sc Honours Forensic Genetics course.

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

Full Time Honours Course

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

Part Time Honours Course

This course will allow learners to work while completing their studies on a part time basis. Recognition will also be given to prior learning and lab experience.

The BSc Hons degree in Forensic Genetics:

In accordance to HEQF’s (Higher Education Qualification Framework) Higher Education Act (101/1997):

NQF exit level:                             8 (120 credits)

Admission requirements:             Appropriate Bachelor’s degree

Duration (full time student):          1 year

Duration (part time student):         2 years

This BSc Hons Forensic Genetics degree includes six compulsory modules:

GDF686 – Research Techniques (24 credits):

This module includes lectures and practicals on selected techniques and competencies as applied in Genetics.   On completion of this module the learner should have the necessary skills to apply certain laboratory techniques.

Students with sufficient laboratory experience will be exempted from certain components of the module.  Students are however required to attend one week of lectures during the first semester of the first academic year.  Students will be assessed on the complete module (even if they were exempted from certain components).

GDF693 – Research: Literature study (16 credits):

The subject of the written scientific paper is selected in consultation with the division head and the study leader.   A written scientific paper (that may be written at the student’s place of employment) should be submitted upon completion.  The paper will then be presented by the student on a seminar day (to be determined by the Department of Genetics).  This module will be completed during the first academic year.

On completion of this module the learner is acquainted with literature searches, organizing information, the compilation of information according to a specific format, as well as in written and verbal communication skills.

GDF692 – Research essay (32 credits):

This course stretches over the entire second academic year and involves a research project under the guidance of a study leader.  The project is selected in consultation with the division head and the study leader.  Arrangements can be made to enable students to perform their practical work at their place of employment.  The results of the project must be submitted in the form of a typed scientific paper for examination.  An oral presentation of 15 minutes with 5 minutes for questions on the research project is required (date to be determined by the Department of Genetics).

After the successful completion of the module, the learner should be skilled in problem identification, hypothesis formulation, planning, conducting and analysis of experiments, as well as in the interpretation and communication of results.

The following three modules will be presented in blocks of two weeks.  The student has to attend full day lectures for the entire two weeks.  Since the dates of these blocks may vary from year to year, it is the prerogative of the student to choose when (which year) he or she wants to attend each module.  All three modules have to be completed by the end of the second academic year.

GDF614 – Forensic DNA typing and quality assurance (16 credits):

The module explains and compares analytical methods used in DNA forensic analysis.  Management and maintenance of a forensic laboratory based on quality assurance, quality control and accreditation guidelines will also be studied in detail.

The method of assessment is a written exam.  Arrangements can be made to enable students to write the exam at their place of employment (with arranged supervision).

GDF624 – Crime Scene Investigations (16 credits):

This module explains the procedure that has to be followed when investigating a crime scene, as well as preliminary tests that can be done at the crime scene to identify biological material (including blood, saliva and semen samples).  Chain witnesses and the gathering of evidence and reference samples will be studied.  The compilation of a DNA report, as well as providing evidence in courts is also part of this module.

The method of assessment is a written exam.  Arrangements can be made to enable students to write the exam at their place of employment (with arranged supervision).

GDF634 – Forensic Molecular Statistics (16 credits):

This module discusses organizing molecular data for further statistical analysis, including the general descriptive statistics.  The comparison of individuals and populations, utilizing population genetic theories are investigated, as well as determining relationships and paternity.

After successful completion of this module, a student will be able to analyse and interpret data generated in the forensic laboratory, by using the appropriate statistical principles and software; identity and paternity determination by utilizing DNA profiles.

Other concepts covered will be population genetics concepts; maintenance of genetic diversity; effects of population size reduction; the implementation and application of molecular markers in forensic and species biology; molecular data analyses with the following software programmes: Popgene and GeneClass.

The method of assessment is a written exam.  Arrangements can be made to enable students to write the exam at their place of employment (with arranged supervision).

All students should at all times adhere to the rules and regulation of the Department of Genetics and the University of the Free State.  As such, all academic work submitted for evaluation must be unique.  Plagiarism (knowingly presenting someone else’s work as your own) is an offence under the copyright law (Act 98 of 1978).  This includes referring to and/or copying from printed or electronic media without acknowledging the appropriate source.  No form of plagiarism will be allowed in the Department of Genetics and any offence in this regard will be referred to the Dean, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.  Students found guilty of plagiarism will fail the particular module and may be suspended from the course.