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The molecular forensics research group at UCT was established in 2014 by Laura Heathfield. The group comprises a dynamic and innovative group of young individuals, who focus on several aspects of post-mortem forensic genetic research.

They strive to contribute towards knowledge which is both locally relevant and internationally meaningful. The principle investigator holds active collaborations with several service providers and independent suppliers, and this ensures that research questions are focused and can inform evidence-based practice and service delivery. In addition, the team works closely with experts in other forensic disciplines (e.g. pathology, toxicology, entomology, anthropology) to tackle inter-disciplinary research questions.

Research studies are designed and conducted to answer pertinent research questions, commensurate with ethical standards. Ongoing research areas focus on human identification through DNA as well as the development of molecular autopsies to investigate underlying genetic contributions toward death. Paediatric public health is a primary focus area, therefore many (but not all) of the research projects have a common thread relating to childhood or infant death.

  • Molecular Autopsies

    • Investigation of underlying genetic contributions toward sudden unexpected death
    • Detection of genetically-altered drug metabolism in toxicology-related fatalities
    • Investigation of non-invasive sampling from decedents for subsequent molecular testing
  • Human Identification

    • Optimisation of DNA extraction from compromised biological samples
    • Expansion of allele frequency data in South Africa for DNA evidence interpretation
    • Molecular phenotyping to predict externally visible characteristics, to assist identification of deceased who are beyond recognition
  • Other Research Topics

    • Body fluid identification
    • Sexual offences
    • DNA barcoding of forensically relevant blow flies