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7 December 2018
UWC Forensic DNA Lab launches revolutionary DNA testing kit

(Published - 7 December 2018)

November 25, 2018 marked the first day of 16 Days of Activism centered around No Violence Against Women and Children. To help address the high level of sexual assault cases in South Africa, UWC’s DNA Forensic Laboratory and inqaba biotec™ launched a revolutionary DNA profiling system which could prove invaluable in investigations.

The kit - known as UniQ-TyperTM Y-10 - was initially designed with sexual assault cases in mind because South Africa has among the highest incidents of sexual assault per capita in the world. The kit targets DNA that is only carried by men – the Y-Chromosome.

At the launch of the product, Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Vivienne Lawack said the development of this kit is a result of blending the old and the new by using computational research and old fashioned lab work. “As we launch this product, we are in the middle of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Every year we see an increase of violence against women. As a woman and a mother, I know of the fears and constant vigilance that have become part of our lives as South Africans,” she said. Prof Lawack believes that this product will bring justice to many women.

Dean of Science, Professor Michael Davies-Coleman, said the launch is very special and explained that it reminded him of one of Gandhi's Seven Social Sins - Science without Humanity. “Science can not take place in isolation of society. Science is there to serve society and to make lives better, and this is an example of that,” he said.

“I’d like to thank Professor D’Amato and congratulate her for this long journey. Thanks to SANBIO, the Lesotho Police Force and Inqaba Biotech for the launch of this important and significant product.”

Professor Maria Eugenia D’Amato – Head of the Forensic DNA Laboratory at UWC’s Department of Biotechnology, and leader of the project – and her team captured DNA samples from anonymous male South African donors to create a unique reference database which 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 discriminate and therefore difficult to incriminate as perpetrators or eliminate as innocents,” said Prof D’Amato.

“The design of this kit was completed after evaluating the genetic diversity among SA men from different ethnic backgrounds.”

UWC has already hosted an international workshop on the application of the kit. It was attended by various police representatives from South Africa, Lesotho and Ghana. Also in attendance were local and international academics and private South African laboratory representatives.

Prof D’Amato said the new kit can assist with criminal forensic investigations and can also play an important role in genealogy, family and anthropology studies.

The prototype was developed using funds from UWC, the National Research Foundation, the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme, the Technology Innovation Agency, inqaba biotec™ and NEPAD SANBio, through the BioFISA II programme.

The BioFISA II Programme – a Finnish-Southern African Partnership Programme aimed at strengthening the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) - started in April 2015 and will be implemented until June 2019, with a total budget of approximately €6 630 000. Programme funds are aimed at investments in human capacity building, networking and the support of commercialisations of innovations in health and nutrition in 13 of the SADC Member States.

To date, BioFISA II has invested R25 million (approximately €1.8 million) in innovations in health and nutrition, including R2 480 000 towards this forensic kit project. Through this funding support, the forensic kit was validated in Zimbabwe and Lesotho, and the technology transferred to the commercial partner, inqaba biotec™.