Use of DNA technology
In 1996 the SAPS and the Animal Genetics Laboratory of the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Animal Production Institute in Irene entered into a partnership to combat the challenge of stock theft with the aid of DNA technology. According to the SAPS, various court cases have been successfully concluded through the use of DNA. In these court cases, which included more than 3 000 pieces of evidence, results of DNA analyses have been used as evidence. Approximately 95% of these cases were solved and the suspects prosecuted.
DNA technology can be used as an important forensic instrument to combat stock theft and is becoming an increasingly important component of the criminal justice system. DNA-based technology is used largely for the determination of identity, ownership, parentage, trace-ability and the species origin of animal products such as tissue, blood and skin.
Apart from identical twins or clones, no two animals are genetically the same. This means the DNA of an animal is a fingerprint or unique identification. Only small quantities of DNA are needed to confirm the fingerprint of an animal. But how does DNA technology help to combat stock theft?
Hair samples (a source of DNA) are collected from individual animals and stored in the laboratory as reference samples. When an animal is injured or slaughtered at a crime scene, or a piece of meat from a stolen animal is found in the possession of a suspect, a tissue sample is taken and compared in the laboratory to the reference samples. If the DNA fingerprint of the reference sample agrees with a sample from the crime scene, the suspect can be connected to the crime scene or the crime itself and the evidence can be used to put the offender behind bars.
Even if there is no reference sample available, conviction is still possible if DNA from blood, bloodstains, meat or other tissue found at the crime scene compares with blood found on the suspect’s clothes, tools that were used or meat found in his possession.
dependent on correctly collecting samples at a crime scene, processing and analysing them in the laboratory and reporting the findings. To ensure that each part of the process is handled correctly, the ARC continuously provides training to the SAPS staff. The training focuses on aspects such as DNA sampling, preservation, documentation and dispatching of samples to the laboratory.