GOVERNMENT CHEMIST

State buys top DNA machine to clear backlog

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i will unveil the machine on Thursday at the Government Chemist laboratories near Kenyatta Hospital.

In Summary

• The nearest such machine, which cost Sh40 million, is only available in South Africa.

• DNA profiling is globally accepted and frequently used in identifying bodies afteraccidents, in paternity disputes and also in the identification of criminals.

Forensic officers leave the Chiromo Mortuary on December 13, 2016 after collecting samples for DNA in an effort to Identify the victims of the Karai road tragedy to their relatives. /JACK OWUOR
Forensic officers leave the Chiromo Mortuary on December 13, 2016 after collecting samples for DNA in an effort to Identify the victims of the Karai road tragedy to their relatives. /JACK OWUOR

When the newly elected Embakasi MP pulled up at his gate just before midnight on January 29, 2008, three gunmen grabbed his wallet, shot him twice in the chest and fled.

Mugabe Were was pronounced dead on arrival at Nairobi Hospital.

Seven years later, James Omondi, alias Castro, a skinny thug with sunken eyes, was sentenced to hang alongside his two accomplices for killing the MP in Woodley Estate.

 

"The shirt and jacket worn by the first accused had bloodstains, which upon DNA analysis, was established to be that of the deceased," High Court judge Luka Kimaru ruled when he convicted Castro and his accomplices.

Mugabe's murder was one of the increasing number f crimes resolved through DNA profiling in Kenya.

Today the government has installed one of the world's latest DNA sequencing machines, expected to help clear a backlog of hundreds of criminal cases in courts, paternity suits and other requests. 

"This machine can do 24 stains in 45 minutes, but the older ones could only do about 16 stains over the same period. So now the capacity is 33 per cent higher," Government Chemist Ali Gakweli said on Wednesday.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i will unveil the machine, a Genetic Analyser 3500 Series, today at the Government Chemist laboratories near Kenyatta Hospital.

The cloestt such machine, which cost Sh40 million, is only available in South Africa.

DNA profiling is globally accepted and frequently used in identifying bodies after accidents, in paternity disputes and also in the identification of criminals.

 

"We have the best capacity in the region. The Nairobi laboratory is equipped with 84 technical staff and 20 of them are working in forensic biology," Gakweli said. 

He said the staff has volunteered to work overtime to reduce the backlog of requests, now in their hundreds.

At crime scenes, investigators often collect items that could have been touched or worn by suspects, thus leading to their arrest and conviction.

If someone touched an object or weapon, skin cells may have been left behind and can identify the suspect when the DNA is compared to biological samples collected from suspects.

"We now have protocols that can help us even generate DNA profiles from skeletal remains," said John Mungai, the head of forensic services at the government chemist. 

Although the Government Chemist now has the most advanced technology in Kenya, DNA profiling of less sophistication is is also available at the DCI and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, among other institutions.

"It is the hope of this court that the investigations conducted in this case should serve a template on how investigations should be conducted with a view to resolving cases involving serious crimes," said Justice Kimaru while he closed Mugabe's murder case in 2015. 

(Edited by V. Graham)