Sir Alec John Jeffreys, CH FRS (born 9 January 1950) is a
British geneticist, who developed techniques for genetic
DNA profiling which are now used worldwide in
forensic science to assist police detective work and to resolve
paternity and immigration disputes. He is a professor of
genetics at the University of Leicester, and he became an
honorary freeman of the City of
Leicester on 26 November 1992. In
1994, he was knighted for services to genetics.
1 Education and early life
2 Career and research
2.1 Genetic fingerprinting
2.3 Awards and honours
3 Personal life
Education and early life
Jeffreys was born into a middle-class family in Oxford, where he spent
the first six years of his life until 1956, when the family moved to
Luton, Bedfordshire. He attributes his curiosity and inventiveness
to having been gained from his father, as well as his paternal
grandfather, who held a number of patents. When he was eight, his
father gave him a chemistry set, which he enhanced over the next few
years with extra chemicals, even including a small bottle of sulphuric
acid. He says he liked making small explosions, but an accidental
splash of the sulphuric acid caused a burn, which left a permanent
scar on his chin (now under his beard). His father also bought him
a Victorian-era brass microscope, which he used to examine
biological specimens. At about 12, he made a small dissecting kit
(including a scalpel, crafted from a flattened pin) which he used to
dissect a bumblebee, but he got into trouble with his parents when he
progressed to dissecting a larger specimen. One Sunday morning he
found a dead cat on the road while doing his paper round and took it
home in his bag. He relates that he started to dissect it on the
dining room table before Sunday lunch, causing a foul smell throughout
the house after he ruptured its intestines.
Jeffreys was a pupil at
Luton Grammar School and then
Luton Sixth Form
College. He won a scholarship to study at Merton College, Oxford
on a four-year course, where he graduated in 1972 with first-class
honours in biochemistry. Jeffreys completed his Doctor of
Philosophy degree on the mitochondria of cultured mammalian cells, as
a postgraduate student at the
Genetics Laboratory at the University of
Career and research
After finishing his doctorate, he moved to the University of
Amsterdam, where he worked on mammalian genes as a research
fellow, and then to the
University of Leicester
University of Leicester in 1977, where in
1984 he discovered a method of showing variations between individuals'
DNA, inventing and developing genetic fingerprinting.
Jeffreys says he had a "eureka moment" in his lab in
looking at the
X-ray film image of a
DNA experiment on 10 September
1984, which unexpectedly showed both similarities and differences
DNA of different members of his technician's
family. Within about half an hour, he continued, he realized
the possible scope of
DNA fingerprinting, which uses variations in the
genetic code to identify individuals. The method has become important
in forensic science to assist police detective work, and it has also
proved useful in resolving paternity and immigration disputes. The
method can also be applied to non-human species, for example in
wildlife population genetics studies. Before his methods were
commercialised in 1987, his laboratory was the only centre in the
world that carried out
DNA fingerprinting, and was consequently very
busy, receiving inquiries from all over the globe.
DNA method was first put to use in 1985 when he was asked
to help in a disputed immigration case to confirm the identity of a
British boy whose family was originally from Ghana. The case was
resolved when the
DNA results proved that the boy was closely related
to the other members of the family, and Jeffreys saw the relief in the
mother's face when she heard the results.
DNA fingerprinting was
first used in a police forensic test to identify the killer of two
teenagers, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, who had been raped and
murdered in Narborough, Leicestershire, in 1983 and 1986 respectively.
Colin Pitchfork was identified and convicted of their murders after
samples taken from him matched semen samples taken from the two dead
girls. This turned out to be a specifically important
identification; British authorities believe that without it an
innocent man would have inevitably been convicted. Not only did
Jeffreys's work in this case prove who the real killer was, but it
exonerated Richard Buckland, initially a prime suspect, who likely
would have spent his life in prison otherwise. In 1992, Jeffreys's
methods were used to confirm the identity for German prosecutors of
the Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele, who had died in 1979, by comparing DNA
obtained from a femur bone of his exhumed skeleton, with
his widow and son, in a similar way to paternity testing.
DNA profiling, based on typing individual highly variable
minisatellites in the human genome, was also developed by Alec
Jeffreys and his team in 1985, with the term (DNA
fingerprinting) being retained for the initial test that types many
minisatellites simultaneously. By focusing on just a few of these
highly variable minisatellites,
DNA profiling made the system more
sensitive, more reproducible and amenable to computer databases. It
soon became the standard forensic
DNA system used in criminal case
work and paternity testing worldwide.
The development of
DNA amplification by the polymerase chain reaction
(PCR) opened up new approaches to forensic
DNA testing, allowing
automation, greatly increased sensitivity and a move to alternative
marker systems. The most commonly used markers are now variable
microsatellites, also known as short tandem repeats (STRs), which
Jeffreys first exploited in 1990 in the Mengele case. STR
profiling was further refined by a team of scientists led by Peter
Gill at the Forensic Science Service in the 1990s, allowing the launch
of the UK National
DNA Database (NDNAD) in 1995. With
highly automated and sophisticated equipment, modern-day
can process hundreds of samples each day. Sixteen micro satellites,
plus a marker for sex determination, are used with the current system
developed for the NDNAD, giving a discrimination power of one in over
a billion. Under British law, anyone arrested in England, Wales or
Northern Ireland has their
DNA profile taken and stored on the
database whether or not they are convicted (different rules apply in
Scotland). The national database now contains the
of nearly five million people. Jeffreys has opposed the current use of
DNA profiling, where the government has access to that database,
and has instead proposed a database of all people's DNA, access to
which would be controlled by an independent third party.
Awards and honours
1986 – Elected a
Fellow of the Royal Society
Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)
1989 – Press, Radio and TV awards for the Midlander of the Year,
1991 – Appointed as a
Royal Society Research Professor.
26 November 1992 – Honorary freeman of the City of Leicester.
1994 – Knighted for services to genetics and to science and
1996 – Albert Einstein World Award of Science.
1998 – Australia Prize, 1998.
1999 – Sir George Stokes Medal
2004 – Honorary doctorate awarded by the University of Leicester,
where Jeffreys is a member of staff.
Royal Medal of the Royal Society.
Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.
2004 – Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine.
2005 – Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research,
Edwin Southern of the University of Oxford.
2005 – United States National Academy of Science, elected
Great Briton Award for the Greatest Briton of the year,
winner in the category of Science and Innovation, as well as the
Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for
Biochemistry and Biophysics.
8 March 2007 –
Honorary degree from King's College London.
23 January 2008 – Graham Medal of the Glasgow Philosophical Society,
awarded after he gave his lecture "
DNA Profiling; Past, present and
future", which was nominated as the Graham Lecture.
16 November 2009 – Awarded Honorary Doctor of Science by the
University of Huddersfield
14 April 2010 – Awarded
April 2010 - Officially opened the new
Soar Valley College building in
21 February 2011 – Awarded
ABRF Annual Award
2014 – Copley Medal
Companion of Honour
Companion of Honour 
Jeffreys met his future wife, Sue Miles, in a youth club in the centre
of Luton, Bedfordshire, before he became a university student,
and they married on 28 August 1971. Jeffreys has one brother and
one sister; he and his wife have two daughters, born in 1979 and
1983.He lived in
Luton opposite 'The Mcleods' on Woodgreen
Close, a noble family with Viking ancestors.</ref>
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"Identification of the skeletal remains of
Josef Mengele by DNA
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