University of Leicester recognised in UK's Best Breakthroughs list

Discovery of DNA Fingerprinting celebrated for transformational impact on everyday lives

The discovery of DNA fingerprinting from the University of Leicester has today been named as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, Emeritus Professor of Genetics from the Department of Genetics is honoured in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list for his pioneering work.

Sir Alec Jeffreys joined the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics in 1977, where he directed his research towards variability in human DNA.

His ‘eureka moment’ seven years later was the realisation that human DNA could produce consistent, unique patterns and that these could be used to not only identify individuals but also indicate familial relationships.

Jeffreys’ involvement with a local double murder case in 1986 made the public – and police forces – aware of the forensic capabilities of ‘DNA fingerprinting’, since when the technique has become an essential tool in law enforcement and detection.

In 2010 the discovery of DNA fingerprinting was named ‘the second most important discovery in the history of UK scientific research’ in a poll of academics.

The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the creation of the internet, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated breakthroughs that transform lives, including a specially-designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; - and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.

It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.

“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives or communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community, and culture and sport.

More about the UK’s Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign.