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Page last updated at 09:24 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 10:24 UK
Jeffreys reflects on DNA finding
Sir Alec Jeffreys
Sir Alec is very happy to remain at the University of Leicester

On Monday 10 September 1984 at 9.05am, Alec Jeffreys had a moment of revelation in his lab at the University of Leicester.

Looking at the X- ray of a DNA experiment, he realised that it showed both similarities and differences in his technician's and family's DNA.

In that moment genetic fingerprinting was born.

In the 25 years since then the technique has been of enormous help in police investigations.

Eureka moment

Since Sir Alec's discovery in 1984 the process of genetic fingerprinting has helped prove guilt and innocence in criminal cases, resolved immigration disputes and clarified paternity.

I never came into academia and scientific research for money, I did it for love
Sir Alec Jeffreys, scientist

Although he clearly sees the technique as a force for good, he also expresses concern that the government is building up records on huge numbers of innocent citizens by stealth.

Sir Alec loves science and his account of the discovery of DNA fingerprinting is riveting; it was a real Eureka moment.

"Most scientific research is a slow painful slog, a sort of three steps forwards, two steps back, and the truth emerges slowly from the gloom.

"What we had was a rare thing in science and that was my eureka moment when we first stumbled upon the whole idea of DNA fingerprinting."

Millions of people across the world have benefitted in some way from Sir Alec's discovery, including financially.

A love of Leicester

Although not a multi-millionaire himself, Sir Alec says he is far from resentful of companies who use his techniques to investigate genealogy for money.

"I never came into academia and scientific research for money, I did it for love."

Sir Alec could probably take up a job anywhere in the world given his fame in academic and scientific circles, but he said he was very happy to continue working at the University of Leicester.

DNA fingerprinting
Jeffreys made his groundbreaking discovery in 1984

He has been working at the university since 1977 when he arrived as a temporary lecturer. Before he arrived from Amsterdam, he could not even point the city out on a map.

"I never saw my long-term career being here in Leicester, it was a couple of years and then move on.

"But there's something magnetic about this place that nobody can really put their finger on what it is.

"Of all the people that have been through my laboratory and all the other laboratories here, we find it almost impossible to get rid of people; they come into Leicester and they stay here, they become very, very loyal to the place."

Jeffreys likes his modest laboratory, likes living in Leicestershire and was greatly honoured to be granted the Freedom of the City, so feels there is no reason he should move away.

"It's my home. My two daughters were born and raised here; they've both excellent Leicester accents. So Leicester through and through."

Sir Alec is not just a Leicestershire legend. He is a national treasure.




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