1. Tell us about your background and how you became interested in forensic science?
I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa and I now work at the University of Cape Town in the Division of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology. My interest in forensic science was sparked during my B.Sc. Honors degree, where I took a module in forensic genetics. I furthered my studies by pursuing a M.Sc. in Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde and I recently completed my Ph.D. in Human Genetics back at the University of Cape Town. I am particularly interested in forensic genetics in a post-mortem context and maintain close links with the provincial Forensic Pathology Services.
2. Can you provide a summary of the project you are working on?
My PhD research explored the concept of a ‘molecular autopsy’ to investigate genetic variants which could explain sudden unexpected death in infants. In this project I used both targeted genetic screening of candidate mutations, as well as massively parallel sequencing, to investigate variants in over 200 infants who demised suddenly and unexpectedly. We were able to uncover known and novel variants which were able to explain the deaths of several infants, and this information has been fed back to their families. In some instances, family members who were at-risk were also screened and then linked with medical care and interventions. Due to my involvements in the post-mortem setting, I have also become acutely aware of the burden of unidentified human remains at forensic mortuaries in South Africa. Therefore, one arm of my research also focuses on identification methods of severely decomposed human remains.
3. Please describe your typical day in the lab.
My typical day in the lab often involves library preparation for massively parallel sequencing. I also spend a lot of my time in the lab showing students how to carry out new techniques. My research also involves time at the mortuary, where I am either speaking to families or assisting the forensic pathologists with DNA sample collection.