Whinsley Masara, Chronicle Reporter
EXPERTS from the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) had by yesterday used DNA samples to identify 14 out of 23 people – by sex and age- who died in a horrific traffic accident recently, with complete identification of all the victims expected tomorrow.
The university’s Applied Genetic Testing Centre (AGTC) which does DNA profiling, was engaged to identify the victims who were burnt beyond recognition in the accident that occurred at the 218 km peg along Harare-Masvingo Road on April 5.
The tragedy occurred when a South Africa-bound Proliner bus they were travelling in sideswiped with a haulage truck and caught fire at Nyamatikiti River near Chaka in Mvuma.
Director of Nust AGTC, Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini said his team and pathologists from Harare’s Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals were on course to finishing the identification process well before the two weeks suggested on April 7.
“We are hoping to complete the whole process by end of today and issue out the DNA forensics certificates for all the bodies by Wednesday.
“As pathologists, this is the summary that we have obtained from the accident victims: three female adults, seven male adults, one toddler (below 6-9), three infants (below the age of one) and nine unidentified bodies, neither by sex or age,” he said.
Mr Dhlamini said the bodies were undergoing analysis by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) at their laboratories.
“We are using the most advanced forensics kit for DNA analysis on the market which identifies 24 different DNA markers in each DNA sample. After that, the PCR products will undergo Capillary Electrophoresis (CE). This will give the unique individual DNA profiles of each sample.
“Parallel to these samples obtained from the bones and teeth of the deceased victims, we are also running 30 reference samples which include mouth swabs obtained from close relatives of the deceased and in some cases, toothbrushes that were being used by the deceased persons are tested. These will be used to identify the deceased by comparing their DNA profiles and the reference samples,” he said.
“If the PCR and the CE work well on all the samples, we will be issuing out the DNA forensics certificates for all the bodies by Wednesday.”
Last week Mr Dhlamini said such tragedies should serve as a wake-up call to Government to prioritise DNA profiling.
He said legislators should consider DNA profiling for every citizen as this will expedite the identification process in case of other disasters.
“The Registrar General’s Office should have a DNA database for citizens. When such disasters occur, we can just pick the body and match it with the information on the database,” said Mr Dhlamini.
Last week police confirmed that some of the people who perished in that accident had since been identified by gender. National chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said eight bodies had been identified in that way.
“On 8 April 2017 police also recovered the remains of a suspected infant at the scene of accident.
“To date, 19 families have reported at Gweru General Hospital in search of their relatives and undergone the DNA testing.
“We are still appealing to members of the public who suspect that their relatives might have perished in this road accident to come forward for the DNA testing process at Gweru General Hospital as 13 other bodies are yet to be identified,” she said.
Twenty three passengers were burnt beyond recognition while 41 were critically injured in the horrific accident that occurred at the 218km peg along the Harare-Masvingo Beitbridge highway at around 9PM.
The driver of the haulage truck, Regius Mangwari (29) had been admitted to Mvuma District Hospital where he was under police guard.
Mangwari, who was driving to Harare, had been charged with 21 counts of culpable homicide before the discovery of two more bodies.