Unique event with special guests celebrates 35th anniversary of DNA fingerprinting

Please note: this event is now sold out. A video recording of the event will be available online, via the University homepage, next week.

Thirty-five years on from the publication of the academic paper on the discovery of DNA fingerprinting by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the University of Leicester will mark the anniversary with a special public event.

Hosted by Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor, and Professor Turi King, the University’s Professor of Public Engagement, ‘DNA Fingerprinting: From Discovery to Legacy’ will take place on the University campus on Friday 6 March, starting at 6.30pm. Tickets are free but limited.

Professor King, who studied under Sir Alec, is bringing together for the first and only time all the key figures from this amazing scientific breakthrough as well as the people involved in the first cases.

Doctor Alec Jeffreys (as he was then) experienced his ‘eureka moment’ at 9.05am on 10 September 1984. The discovery that human DNA carries a unique ‘fingerprint’ and that this can be used to both identify individuals and prove (or disprove) relationships has been hailed as one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century.

Sir Alec is Emeritus Professor at the University of Leicester, having retired in 2012, and now rarely gives interviews. He has generously agreed to come out of retirement to take part in this special event.

Also in attendance will be David Gyimah, whose family were the subject of the first ever case where DNA fingerprinting was used: an immigration case which saw a young Ghanaian boy reunited with his family.

They will be joined by former Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker, the Leicestershire police officer who approached Sir Alec about using this innovative technique to help solve a baffling local double murder. From the successful resolution of this case came the whole field of DNA fingerprinting as a policing tool, which has subsequently helped to convict – or exonerate – thousands of people around the world.

The mothers of the two victims in this case have also agreed to attend the event. Another guest is Jenny Foxon whose DNA was used by Sir Alec in creating the first ever DNA fingerprint. Simon Cole, Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police completes the unprecedented line-up.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah said: “We look forward to marking the 35th Anniversary of DNA fingerprinting here at the University of Leicester. The scientific breakthrough by Sir Alec Jeffreys changed the world, in fields as diverse as immigration, forensics, medicine the protection of endangered species. As we start the celebrations around the University’s Centenary, and look back to the great research that has taken place at this University, this discovery couldn’t be more symbolic as to how we see ourselves in the coming century. At the University of Leicester, we pride ourselves on being citizens of change, with excellent research and teaching at the heart of what we do.”

David Baker said: “I’m proud to have been a part of such an historic event. It was very rewarding to lead on bringing this technique into the world of policing for its very first use in a forensic case: first exonerating an innocent man and then being able to bring the perpetrator to justice. It also allowed us to bring closure for the families of the victims. There was a great deal of satisfaction in a job well done.”

Professor Turi King said: “I am so pleased to be able to bring these people together to mark the 35th anniversary of the discovery of DNA fingerprinting, one of the greatest scientific leaps of the 20th century. DNA fingerprinting has truly changed the world and I hope the evening will be a fitting tribute to Sir Alec and the other guests who were so instrumental in the scientific breakthrough and its use in those early cases. Their contributions opened the floodgates for its use around the world and the tremendous impact it has had on people’s lives globally.”

  • Please note: Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys is not available for interviews. He has kindly agreed to this one-off event but does not wish to do any media work around it.
  • Please direct any media queries to Professor Turi King tek2@le.ac.uk