|Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys|
9 January 1950 |
Oxford, United Kingdom
|Institutions||University of Amsterdam, University of Leicester|
|Alma mater||Merton College, Oxford|
|Known for||Inventor of genetic fingerprinting|
|Notable awards||Albert Einstein World Award of Science (1996)
Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research (2005),
Royal Medal awarded by the Royal Society (2004),
Greatest Briton of 2006
Copley Medal (2014)
|Spouse||Susan (née Miles) m. 1971|
Professor Sir Alec John Jeffreys, FRS (born 9 January 1950 in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 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, and he became an honorary freeman of the City of Leicester on 26 November 1992. In 1994, he was knighted for services to science and technology.
Jeffreys was born on 9 January 1950 in Oxford. He 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 curiosity and inventiveness were 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. 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. He 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. He won a scholarship to study at Merton College, Oxford on a four year course, which he started in 1968 and he graduated in 1972 with first-class honours degree in biochemistry.
Jeffreys 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. Working in Leicester he discovered a method of showing variations between individual's DNA in 1984, and invented and developed genetic fingerprinting.
Jefferys was special guest at – and officially opened – the new Soar Valley College building Soar Valley College in April 2010.
Jeffreys had a "eureka moment" in his lab in Leicester after looking at the X-ray film image of a DNA experiment at 9:05 am on Monday 10 September 1984, which unexpectedly showed both similarities and differences between the DNA of different members of his technician's family. 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.
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 that Richard Buckland, the main suspect, would have inevitably been convicted. Therefore, not only did Jeffrey's work in this case prove who the real killer was, but exonerate someone who likely would have spent his life in prison otherwise. In 1992, Jeffreys' 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, and DNA from 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 focussing on just a few of these highly variable minisatellites, DNA profiling made the system more sensitive, more reproducible, and amenable to computer databasing, and 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), that Jeffreys first exploited in 1990 in the Joseph 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 DNA profiling can process hundreds of samples each day. Ten microsatellites 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 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.
Jeffreys met his future wife, Sue, in a youth club in the centre of Luton, Bedfordshire before he became a university student. Jeffreys married Sue (née Miles) on 28 August 1971, and they have two daughters, born in 1979 and 1983. 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.
Awards and recognition
- 20 March 1986 – Fellow of the Royal Society.
- 1989 – Midlander of the Year.
- 1991 – Appointed as a Royal Society Research Professor.
- 26 November 1992 – Honorary freeman of the City of Leicester.
- 1994 – Knighted.
- 1996 – Albert Einstein World Award of Science.
- 1998 – Australia Prize.
- 1999 – Stokes Medal
- 2004 – Honorary doctorate awarded by the University of Leicester, where Jeffreys is a member of staff.
- 2004 – Royal Medal of the Royal Society.
- 2004 – Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.
- 2004 – Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine.
- 2005 – Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research, jointly with Edwin Southern of the University of Oxford.
- 2005 – United States National Academy of Science, elected member.
- 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.
- 2006 – 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 Edinburgh Medal
- 21 February 2011 – Awarded ABRF Annual Award
- 2014 – Copley Medal
- Find an EMBO member
- "Leicester University Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys wins science's oldest prize". Leicester Mercury. 5 August 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
- DNA pioneer's 'eureka' moment BBC. Retrieved 14 October 2011
- "Desert Island Discs with Alec Jeffreys". Desert Island Discs. 2007-12-09. BBC. Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/desertislanddiscs_20071209.shtml.
- Zagorski, N. (2006). "Profile of Alec J. Jeffreys". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (24): 8918–8920. doi:10.1073/pnas.0603953103. PMC 1482540. PMID 16754883.
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- Hodgson, J. (2006). "Ten years of biotech gaffes". Nature Biotechnology 24 (3): 270–273. doi:10.1038/nbt0306-270. PMID 16525384.
- "The Gene Genius" (PDF). University of Leicester. September 2004. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
- Newton, Giles (4 February 2004). "Discovering DNA fingerprinting: Sir Alec Jeffreys describes its development". Wellcome Trust. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 23 December 2007.
- Jeffreys, A.; Wilson, V.; Thein, S. (1985). "Hypervariable 'minisatellite' regions in human DNA". Nature 314 (6006): 67–73. doi:10.1038/314067a0. PMID 3856104.
- Jeffreys, A.; Wilson, V.; Thein, S. (1985). "Individual-specific 'fingerprints' of human DNA". Nature 316 (6023): 76–79. doi:10.1038/316076a0. PMID 2989708.
- Jeffreys, A.; Allen, M.; Hagelberg, E.; Sonnberg, A. (1992). "Identification of the skeletal remains of Josef Mengele by DNA analysis". Forensic Science International 56 (1): 65–76. doi:10.1016/0379-0738(92)90148-P. PMID 1398379.
- Johnson, Paul; Williams, Robin (22 March 2006). "DNA and Crime Investigation: Scotland and the 'UK National DNA Database'". The Scottish journal of criminal justice studies : the journal of the Scottish Association for the Study of Delinquency (UKPMC) 10: nihms6806. PMC 1408072. PMID 16557290.
- Matthews, Robert (2 November 2006). "The informer in your blood". The First Post. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2008.
- "Privacy fears over DNA database". BBC. 12 September 2002. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2007.
- Debrett's People of Today 2005 (18th ed.). Debrett's. p. 857. ISBN 1-870520-10-6.
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- "Albert Einstein World Award of Science 1996". World Cultural Council. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
- "Response by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys". University of Leicester. July 2004. Retrieved 15 December 2007.[dead link]
- "Royal recent winners". The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
- The Pride of Britain Awards – Lifetime Achievement, Sir Alec Jeffreys Retrieved 14 October 2011
- "The winners of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine". Louis-Jeantet Foundation. Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. Retrieved 22 December 2007.
- "2005 Albert Lasker Award – Acceptance remarks by Alec Jeffreys". Lasker Foundation. Archived from the original on 15 December 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2007.
- "2005 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research". Lasker Foundation. Archived from the original on 11 December 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2007.
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- "King's first Honorary Degree Ceremony". King's College London. 8 March 2007. Archived from the original on 2 July 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2007.
- "Lecture Abstract: Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys 'DNA Fingerprinting and beyond'". Glasgow Philosophical Society. 23 January 2008.[dead link]
- "The University of Huddersfield’s 2009 Honorary Award recipients". University of Huddersfield. 9 December 2009. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010.
- "Edinburgh Medal". Edinburgh Science Festival. 14 April 2010. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010.
- "ABRF Annual Award for Outstanding Contributions to Biomolecular Technologies".
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