Lancaster University

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Genetic fingerprinting, past, present and future

10/12/2011 00:00:00


Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who invented DNA fingerprinting, has given a lecture at Lancaster Town Hall .

DNA-based identification has transformed legal and forensic medicine. This public lecture discussed the origins of DNA fingerprinting through to the latest developments and their social impacts

Sir Alec Jeffreys is Professor of Genetics at the University of Leicester. His pioneering work in genetics led to the invention of DNA fingerprinting, which has transformed the process of identifying people – helping to solve paternity and immigration cases, as well as contributing to the conviction of criminals and the freeing of innocent people.

His work made the establishment of the UK National DNA Database possible, which is currently the largest in the world, holding the DNA profiles of 5 million people. Though his work supported the creation of this database, Professor Jeffreys has been critical of its current form, particularly its inclusion of the genetic details of thousands of innocent people. While a 2008 European court ruling stated that storing the details of innocent people breaks their right to privacy, the number of such profiles continues to grow. Although a recent Supreme Court ruling re-affirmed this violation of privacy, changes to the National DNA Database continue to be a subject of debate in advance of new legislation from the coalition government.

Professor Jeffreys was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986, given the title of Honorary Freeman of the City of Leicester in 1992 and Knighted in 1994 for his services to genetics.

The public lecture was organised and sponsored by the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen), at Lancaster University, which is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Genomics Network.