On the 25th anniversary of the 1984 breakthrough discovery of the secret of DNA fingerprinting, the UK’s University of Leicester bestowed upon its own Sir Alec Jeffreys the Distinguished Honorary Fellowship award in recognition of his scientific achievement as a DNA pioneer. Often named the “Grandfather of DNA” for his groundbreaking efforts in human genetics, Jeffreys’ work combined molecular biology and genetics to study variation in human DNA, particularly at highly variable repeat DNA sequences. This culminated in his accidental development of DNA fingerprinting in 1984 and demonstration that it could be used to resolve issues of identification and kinship.
Jeffreys received the award for his great discovery with humility. He said: “I would like to pay credit to Professor Bob Pritchard. I remember clearly when I came here that he made it clear that I had freedom to follow my scientific nose. Only by doing that, now we’ve stumbled upon this.” He continued to explain that discovering DNA fingerprinting began quite by accident as he researched human genetic variations in the realm of medical genetics, nothing to do whatsoever with forensics or human identification. He further stated, “Science is fundamentally unpredictable and you have to maintain a very vibrant attitude. Fundamentally science is the engine that ultimately drives all technological innovation.” Professor Jeffreys currently holds the position of Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor at Leicester. His work in 1984 was significant in bringing DNA technology to use in practical casework, such as forensic investigation and paternity testing. Today, DNA technology that is based on the discoveries made by Sir Alec Jeffreys and others helps answer questions of human identity and family relationship across the world.
For more information about Sir Alec Jeffreys, visit The Royal Society site: www.royalsociety.org/