Celebrating 35 years of DNA fingerprinting

At 9.05am on Monday 10 September 1984, a discovery in a laboratory at the University of Leicester changed the way criminal investigations were carried out.

The discovery, made by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys who had his eureka moment when he realised that human DNA could produce consistent, unique patterns and that these could be used to not only identify individuals, but also indicate familial relationships.

His involvement with a local double murder case in 1986 made the public – and police forces – aware of the forensic capabilities of ‘DNA fingerprinting’.

But it is the technique’s application in solving familial and immigration disputes that he is most proud of. The breakthrough was not only useful for the justice system but has been used for wildlife forensics plus diagnosis of and the development of cures for inherited disorders.

The discovery was featured in the Made at Uni campaign highlighting top 100 discoveries from UK universities. Professor Turi King, who was an assistant to Sir Alec and who built her own reputation as a DNA and genetics expert for her work to identify the remains of King Richard III, said:

“Sir Alec Jeffreys' discovery and development of DNA fingerprinting has been one of the most important scientific breakthroughs the world has ever seen. Not only has it changed forensics and the solving of criminal cases but has had tremendous impact in the fields of medicine and ecology, as well as immigration cases and identification of victims of mass disasters. It has truly changed the world.”

Turi will be exhibiting at the #MadeatUni campaign event in Parliament on 6 November.

We will also be holding a free showing of the ITV drama Code of a Killer, starring Dr Who's John Sim as Sir Alec Jeffreys in the Autumn term to commemorate this milestone.