Proposed curriculum for 4th year postgraduate qualification in forensic biology


The DNA project, after extensive consultation with a task team comprising of academics from South African Universities and Universities of Technology, as well as staff from the Criminal Justice Review team, have developed a curriculum for a post-graduate honours qualification in Forensic DNA analysis.

The curriculum provides the basis for a qualification aimed at training persons with specific skills in forensic DNA analysis. The qualification will allow the forensic science fraternity to provide a more effective DNA analysis service that will improve community satisfaction and position the Forensic Science Laboratories to fulfill their mission of creating a safe environment for all who live in South Africa.

Based on the proposed curriculum the DNA project has developed the associated course material which is available on application to any suitable tertiary institution wishing to offer the qualification.

Institutions wishing to offer the qualification will have to obtain the necessary approval from the Department of Education (DOE) and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

Proposed modules and outline of course content


1. Forensic Biology Techniques Course (20 credits)

  • Identification and characterization of biological fluids (presumptive testing for presence of DNA). Types of biological fluids will include blood, semen, saliva and vaginal secretions.
  • Theory and practical execution of DNA extraction methods.
  • Preparation, assessment and handling of reagents, samples and equipment used for DNA isolation purposes.
  • Theory and practical execution of DNA quantitation methodology.
  • Preparation and handling of reagents, samples and equipment used for qPCR and Real-time PCR.
  • Evaluation of quantification results.
  • Theory and practical execution of DNA amplification, using PCR.
  • Theory and practical execution of DNA separation and detection methods.
  • Use of specialized expert software such as Gene-Mapper.
  • Assessment of STR DNA profiles in terms of factors affecting genotyping results such as allelic ladders, pull-up peaks, dye blobs, spikes, stutter peaks, split peaks, microvariants, null and dropped alleles.
  • Interpretation of partial profiles and mixtures.

2. Forensic DNA Typing (10 credits)

  • The structure and function of human cells, nuclear and mitochondrial chromosomes.
  • The relationship between chromosomes and genes.
  • The life cycle of the cell and the processes of mitosis, meiosis and gametogenesis.
  • The structure and function of DNA, the inheritance patterns of autosomal and sex-linked genes.
  • Polymorphism and genetic variation in populations.
  • Desirable characteristics and nomenclature of molecular and DNA markers used in forensic analyses.
  • Multiplexing.
  • Commonly used commercial kits and ladders, gender identification, Y-chromosome testing, SNP’s and the analysis of mitochondrial DNA.
  • Stutter products and their impact on profile interpretation, non-plate addition, microvariants and off-ladder alleles, trisomy, allelic dropout and null alleles.
  • The effects of mutation, chromosomal abnormalities and low-copy number DNA.
  • Kinship determination and paternity casework.

3. Audit, review and interpretation of forensic findings (10 credits)

  • The foundational principles of population genetics, statistics and probability as applicable to forensic examinations.
  • The Hardy-Weinberg Law, effects of linkage, genetic drift and mutation.
  • Likelihood ratios and Bayes theorem.
  • Analysis of population databases, calculation of allele and genotype frequencies and match probabilities.
  • The application of DNA intelligence screening in forensic investigations.
  • Validity of forensic DNA databases for match confirmation for forensic intelligence purposes.
  • Comparison of population datasets and International Criminal Intelligence Databases.
  • Evaluation and analysis of data processed by specialized expert software such as Gene-Mapper ID. Evaluation and verification of DNA data and statistical findings generated by specialized systems.
  • Evaluation and examination of the evidential recovery process and interpretation of forensic findings.

4. Crime scene analysis and recovery of DNA evidence (10 credits)

  • Theory and principles of crime scene analysis and reconstruction.
  • International forensic standards applicable to incident scene reconstruction.
  • Identification and characterization of biological fluids found at the crime scene (presumptive testing for presence of DNA).
  • Collection, packaging and preservation of biological evidence from different crime scenes e.g. sexual assault, property crime and murder.
  • Legal considerations at the crime scene - procedures that must be followed to gather and interpret evidence for possible use in the judicial process, including ensuring the integrity of evidence and chain of custody.

5. Forensic evidence and the legal system (10 credits)

  • Legislative framework in South Africa
  • 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.
  • Communication of violence contained in the written report in a logical sequence, in clear and concise language and based on facts appropriate to law of evidence and ethical principles.
  • Documentation and evaluation of legal proceedings.
  • Ethical and legislative aspects of DNA database intelligence.

6. Research Project (40 credits)

The research project will be conducted in the field of Forensic Biology and will allow the student the opportunity to plan, implement, analyze and present a research project.

The research project will entail the student utilizing the technology used in Forensic Biology Laboratories i.e. the methods of DNA extraction, quantification, amplification and separation. The student will also be required to illustrate his/her competence in the assessment and interpretation of DNA profiles.

Whilst conducting their Research Project students will complete the following two theoretical modules:

Good Laboratory Practice

  • Understanding of the analytical methods used in forensic analysis and possible reasons for deviations in process control parameters.
  • Safety precautions to be taken when working with biological samples.
  • Precautions that should be taken against contamination.
  • Laboratory validation, including internal and external validation and performance runs.
  • Principles of quality control and quality assurance based on ISO17025 & SANAS standards for DNA testing laboratories.
  • Requirements for proficiency tests.
  • Maintenance, verification and calibration requirements for DNA instrumentation.
  • Laboratory assessments and audits.
  • OHS Act safety requirements.

Research methodology

  • How to plan, conduct, present and publish research projects in a responsible manner.
  • How to conduct quantitative and qualitative research with integrity by providing reliable, valid and credible findings.

Note: 1 credit indicates that it will take a student, on average, 10 hours to master the information. This includes all contact time spent in lectures as well as practical and tutorial sessions. Typically a 10 - credit module would consist of 4 lectures and one 3-hour practical/tutorial session per week. Such a module would have at least two formal class assessments and one 3-hour examination at the completion of the module. The module would be completed over 12-13 weeks. Modules will include in-depth practical experience in the laboratory, tutorial sessions, a research project, seminar sessions, working with case studies and mock trials.