People laughed at invention 30 years ago: DNA profiling inventor

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Sep 10, 2014 01:12 IST

The unique technique has long been used to solve crime, immigration cases and other problems, but when DNA fingerprinting was accidentally discovered 30 years ago on 10 September 1984 at the University of Leicester, the inventor says people laughed and thought he had ‘lost his marbles’.

Alec Jeffreys, whose discovery revolutionalised forensic science and has since helped solve thousands of crime and other cases across the world, said the moment of discovery was a ‘glorious accident’ that changed his life.

Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the ‘Eureka’ moment, he said in a talk at the university, “When I first gave a talk on the applications of DNA fingerprinting- people fell about laughing. They thought I had lost my marbles.”

He added, “Handling samples from the first murder case was a chilling moment…My wife, Sue, spotted the first practical application of DNA fingerprinting.”

Sue, he said, spotted the potential for resolving immigration disputes which in fact proved to be the world’s first application of genetic fingerprinting.

“The discovery of DNA fingerprinting was a glorious accident. It was best summarised in a school project that a grandson of mine did years ago: ‘DNA fingerprinting was discovered by my granddad when he was messing about in the lab’. Actually, you can’t describe it better than that – that is exactly what we were doing,” he said.

“You’ve got to leave space for the unexpected in research and then have the mechanisms in place for the unexpected to be translated into something useful,” he added.

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