Alec Jeffreys

Alec Jeffreys

Infobox Scientist
name = Sir Alec Jeffreys

image_width =
caption =
birth_date = birth date and age|1950|1|9|df=y
birth_place = Oxford, United Kingdom
nationality = British
death_date =
death_place =
field = Genetics
work_institutions = University of Amsterdam, University of Leicester
alma_mater = Merton College, Oxford
known_for = Inventor of genetic fingerprinting
prizes = Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research (2005),
Royal Medal awarded by the Royal Society (2004),
Great Briton Award, Greatest Briton of 2006.

Sir Alec John Jeffreys, FRS (born 9 January 1950 at Oxford in Oxfordshire) is a British geneticist, who developed techniques for DNA fingerprinting and DNA profiling which are now used all over the world in forensic science to assist police detective work, and also to resolve paternity and immigration disputes. He is a professor of genetics at the University of Leicester,cite web | url = |title = Staff pages: Professor Sir Alec J. Jeffreys FRS |accessdaymonth = 15 December |accessyear = 2007 |publisher = University of Leicester ] and he became an honorary freeman of the City of Leicester on 26 November 1992.cite web |url = |title = List of persons upon whom the honorary freedom of the city has been conferred |accessdaymonth = 15 December |accessyear = 2007 |publisher = Leicester City Council] In 1994, he was knighted by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England, for Services to Science and Technology .

Early life

Jeffreys came from a middle-class family and has one brother and sister. He spent the first six years of his life in Oxford until 1956 when the family moved to Luton. His sense of curiosity and inventiveness was probably gained from his father, as well as his paternal grandfather who had a number of patents to his name. When he was eight years old his father gave him a large chemistry set which was enhanced over the next few years with extra chemicals including a bottle of concentrated sulphuric acid, bought from a pharmacy, at a time when pharmacists were less regulated than now.cite episode |title=Desert Island Discs with Alec Jeffreys |url=
series=Desert Island Discs | serieslink=Desert Island Discs |network=BBC |station=Radio 4 |airdate=2007-12-09
] He liked making small explosions, but an accidental splash of sulphuric acid caused a burn and a permanent scar on his chin (now under his beard). When he was about eight or nine years old, his father bought him a beautiful Victorian brass microscope, which he used to examine biological specimens, furthering his interest in biology. At about 12 years old 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 started to dissect it before Sunday lunch on the dining room table causing a foul smell throughout the house, which was particularly bad after he ruptured its intestines. Jeffreys was a pupil at Luton Grammar School and then Luton Sixth Form College.cite web |url = |title = The Gene Genius |month = September |year = 2004 |publisher = University of Leicester |accessdaymonth = 17 December |accessyear = 2007]

Jeffreys followed the youth culture of the time and initially became a Mod while owning a Vespa 150 cc motor-scooter and wearing a parka jacket. He was then a Hippie for a while before buying a Matchless 350 cc motorcycle and becoming a Rocker.

Personal life

Jeffreys' first brush with romance was unsuccessful as the girl in question totally ignored him; however, he enjoyed a few subsequent relationships prior to meeting his wife-to-be, Sue, in a youth club in Luton, Bedfordshire before going on to study biochemistry on a four-year course at Merton College, Oxford. He married Sue in 1971, and their two daughters were still very young and growing up when Jeffreys' work-life became hectic for the two or three years following his genetic fingerprinting breakthrough.

Jeffreys is also very good at the game Twister, quite possibly the top Twister player on staff at Leicester University following his win at the 2006 Departmental Christmas party.

Jeffreys is a "Distinguished Supporter" of the British Humanist Association.

In 2008 he officially openend Gartree High School,Oadby.


Jeffreys graduated in biochemistry from Merton College. He enjoys being at the laboratory bench, and prepared his PhD thesis entitled "Studies on the mitochondria of cultured mammalian cells" as a postgraduate student at the Genetics Laboratory, University of Oxford. After finishing his PhD, he moved to the University of Amsterdam, where he worked on mammalian genes as a research fellow. He moved on to the University of Leicester in 1977, where he found an academically stimulating and helpful environment, and where he invented and developed genetic fingerprinting.

Genetic fingerprinting

Jeffreys had a "eureka moment" in his lab in Leicester after looking at the X-ray of a DNA experiment at 9:05 am on Monday 10 September 1984, which unexpectedly showed both similarities and differences in his technician's family's DNA. Within about half an hour, 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 carrying out DNA fingerprinting in the world, and during this period of about two or three years it was very busy, receiving inquiries from all over the globe.cite web |url =| title = Discovering DNA fingerprinting: Sir Alec Jeffreys describes its development | publisher = Wellcome Trust| date = 04-02-04 |first = Giles|last = Newton |accessdaymonth = 23 December |accessyear = 2007]

Jeffreys' DNA method, which is often called DNA fingerprinting, was first put to use 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 as a police forensic test to identify the rapist and killer of two teenagers, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, who were both murdered in Narborough, Leicestershire, in 1983 and 1986 respectively. Colin Pitchfork was identified and convicted of murder after samples taken from him matched semen samples taken from the two dead girls.. This turned out to be a specifically important identification for without it, British Authorities believe it was inevitable Richard Buckland, the main suspect at the time, would have been found guilty, so not only did Jeffrey's work in this case prove who the real killer was, but exonerated someone who likely would have spent his life in prison otherwise. Another early achievement was 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,cite journal
url = | title = Genetic fingerprinting| first = Alec |last = Jeffreys |journal = Nature Medicine: Commentary |issue = 10 |volume = 11|month= October |year =2005|accessdaymonth = 15 December |accessyear = 2007 | pages = xiv-xviii | format = dead link|date=June 2008 – [ Scholar search] | doi = 10.1038/nbt0306-270
] and DNA from his widow and son, in a similar way to paternity testing.

DNA profiling

DNA profiling based on highly variable minisatellites in the human genome was developed by a team of scientists led by Peter Gill at The Forensic Science Service in the 1990s. DNA fingerprinting was renamed as DNA profiling to stop confusion with fingerprints. DNA profiling focused on just a few of these highly variable minisatellites, making the system more sensitive, more reproducible and amenable to computer databasing. With highly automated and sophisticated equipment, modern-day DNA profiling can process hundreds of samples each day. This DNA profiling technique was the basis for the UK National DNA Database (NDNAD) launched in Britain in 1995. Ten minisatellites 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 has their DNA profile stored on a database (whether or not they are convicted), which now contains the DNA information 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, whose access would be controlled by an independent third party. [cite web |url = |publisher = BBC |title =Privacy fears over DNA database|date = 2002-09-12|accessdaymonth = 9 December|accessyear = 2007 ]


Jeffreys and his team are now studying the effects of chronic irradiation such as that which has followed the melt down of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. Other areas of interest include analysis of human genome instability and recombination processes by single gamete and transgenic approaches. He is also investigating the effects of ionising radiation on germline mutation.

Awards and recognition

*20 March 1986 - Fellow of the Royal Society. [cite web
url =
publisher =The Royal Society
title = List of Fellows of the Royal Society: 1660–2007: A - J
accessdaymonth = 9 October|accessyear = 2007
*1989 - Midlander of the Year.
*1991 - Appointed as a Royal Society Research Professor.cite web |url = |title = Sir Alec Jeffreys FRS - DNA fingerprinting |publisher = The Royal Society |accessdaymonth = 15 December |accessyear = 2007]
*26 November 1992 - Honourary freeman of the City of Leicester.
*1994 - Knighted.
*1996 - Albert Einstein World Award of Science. [cite web |url = |publisher = World Cultural Council|title = Albert Einstein World Award of Science|accessdaymonth = 22 December |accessyear = 2007]
*1998 - Australia Prize.
*1999 - Stokes Medal
*2004 - Honorary doctorate awarded by the University of Leicester, where Jeffreys is a member of staff. [cite web |url = |publisher = University of Leicester |title = Response by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys| month = July |year = 2004 |accessdaymonth = 15 December |accessyear = 2007]
*2004 - Royal Medal of the Royal Society. [cite web |url = |title = Royal recent winners| publisher = The Royal Society|accessdaymonth = 20 December |accessyear = 2007 ]
*2004 - Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine. [cite web |url = |title = The winners of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine|publisher = Louis-Jeantet Foundation |accessdaymonth = 22 December |accessyear = 2007]
*2005 - Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research,cite web
url =
title = 2005 Albert Lasker Award - Acceptance remarks by Alec Jeffreys
accessdaymonth = 19 December |accessyear = 2007 |publisher = Lasker Foundation
] jointly with Edwin Southern of the University of Oxford.cite web
url =
title = 2005 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research
accessdaymonth = 19 December |accessyear = 2007 |publisher = Lasker Foundation
*December 2006 - Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) by the University of Liverpool.
*2006 - Morgan Stanley Great Briton Award for the Greatest Briton of the year, winner in the category of Science and Innovation, as well as the overall winner.
*8 March 2007 - Honorary degree from King's College London. [cite web |url = |publisher = King's College London |title = King's first Honorary Degree Ceremony| date = 2007-03-08|accessdaymonth = 15 December |accessyear = 2007]
*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. [cite web |url = |publisher = Glasgow Philosophical Society |date = 2008-01-23 |title = Lecture Abstract: Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys 'DNA Fingerprinting and beyond']


External links

* [ Article high-lighting Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys concerns about the use of DNA evidence]

NAME= Jeffreys, Alec
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Jeffreys, Alec John
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Inventor of genetic fingerprinting
DATE OF BIRTH= 19 January 1950
PLACE OF BIRTH= Oxford, United Kingdom

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