UWC scientists say rapists should be afraid of their new DNA kit - this is Y

06 December 2018 - 13:06 By Tanya Farber
The Y chromosome is the target of a new DNA test aimed at identifying rapists.
The Y chromosome is the target of a new DNA test aimed at identifying rapists.
Image: 123rf.com

An innovative DNA testing kit that could help bust rapists was unveiled by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Thursday.

The kit targets DNA that is carried only by men - the Y chromosome - and is one of the first of its kind to factor in Africa's genetic diversity.

The university’s DNA forensic laboratory launched the new profile system with its commercial partner, Inqaba Biotec. Researchers say it was designed with sexual assault cases in mind.

Professor Maria D'Amato
Professor Maria D'Amato
Image: UWC

Laboratory head Professor Maria D’Amato told TimesLIVE: “The kit detects fragments in the Y chromosome, which is specific to males. They are very accurate for individual identification.”

Mischa Fraser, the project manager from Inqaba Biotec, said the kit was already in SA and being used. 

D’Amato and her team captured DNA samples from anonymous male South African donors to create a database that represents the genetic diversity in the region.

“Many commercial genotyping kits do not capture the genetic diversity existing in Africa, which means that individuals are difficult to identify and then incriminate as perpetrators or eliminate as innocents,” said D'Amato.

UWC has hosted an international workshop on the application of the kit. It was attended by police representatives from SA, Lesotho and Ghana, as well as local and international academics and private South African laboratory representatives.

D’Amato said the kit could help in criminal forensic investigations and play an important role in genealogy, family and anthropology studies.

If the kit is used widely, it could go a long way towards alleviating the low rate of rape convictions in SA, despite having one of the world's highest rape rates.

According to research by the Medical Research Council (MRC) last year, SA's conviction rate for rape is only 8.6%.

The new DNA testing kit is specifically for the Y chromosome found only in males.
The new DNA testing kit is specifically for the Y chromosome found only in males.
Image: UWC

Of the 3,952 cases included in the study, an arrest was made in 2,283 (57%). Prosecutors accepted 1,362 cases (34.4%).

Trials started in 731 cases (18.5%), with 340 (8.5%) resulting in a guilty verdict. In 247 of the cases (6.2%) a perpetrator was jailed.

“These findings show that there has been small and insignificant progress in attaining justice for rape victims,” said MRC researchers.


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