Episode 5 – Sir Alec Jeffries and DNA Fingerprinting

DNA Fingerprint

DNA Fingerprint


Professor Sir Alec Jeffries talks to us about the discovery of DNA fingerprinting, its uses/abuses and its impact on society.

Preview from the Show:

I’ve been called the father of DNA fingerprinting – I think grandfather is more appropriate. So basically the baby has grown up and spawned its own offspring – so I’m now granddad – and they are thriving. …But obviously I keep a very, very great interest in watching… just how it’s being used, and indeed, on occasion how it’s being misused, or potentially misused. And on that point, I will certainly stand up and raise these issues.

BARTEL: Can you tell us a little bit about how you discovered the technology?
By glorious accident. The last thing on my mind in the lead up work to developing that first DNA fingerprint was any thought of forensic investigation.

[Later]: I went back that evening to my home and sat down with my wife Sue – very excited – and said, look this is what we’ve come up with; I think we can use it for this, that, and the other. And she said “yeah – that’s great, but you’ve forgotten one thing.” I said “what’s that”, and she said “immigration disputes.”…And at that point, I remember my blood running cold. Because I suddenly thought “immigration – that is seriously political; this not science anymore. This is getting dangerously into the world of politics.” But as history would have it, the very first case was an immigration dispute, and the first application was in immigration.

First, DNA fingerprinting wouldn’t have happened without basic blue skies research; it came out of nowhere – it was unpredictable. And secondly, science is a lot of fun. Without that sense of fun, I wouldn’t have come up with this either. I think those are two important messages for the policy makers, but certainly for the young people of today – tomorrow’s future scientists.


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