‘Grandfather of DNA’ stresses need for research

THE man who discovered DNA fingerprinting has underlined the importance of allowing academics to conduct “curiosity-driven” research.

Professor Alec Jeffreys, the “grandfather of DNA”, spoke on the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the technique.

A quarter of a century ago the scientist, now 59, stumbled across the groundbreaking development in a “eureka” moment.

Just past 9am on September 10, 1984, he realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.

The technique led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, used to solve a range of crimes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration and cloning.

The University of Leicester, where Prof Jeffreys has worked for the past 32 years, yesterday marked the occasion with a series of events, including a giant DNA model in the building where the discovery was made, a Darwin/DNA Day with public lectures and discussion forums, and school outreach and social programmes.

And on the 25th anniversary the scientist spoke of the importance of allowing academics freedom to research.

In an interview commissioned by the university from education media consultants Media FHE, he said academics should be able to pursue “unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven” research.

He said that “blue skies” research, which led to discoveries such as his own, was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution”, and warned: “You lose that at your peril.”

The professor said he remains excited about the potential of science to reveal the unknown.

He said the discovery he would be most excited to see in the next 25 years does not involve anything to do with his own research, adding: “No-brainer. Extra-terrestrial life.

“I would love to see that before I die.”


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