University of Leicester

Discovery of genetic fingerprinting

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, part of the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics from 1977 until his retirement in 2012, discovered genetic fingerprinting, which has become crucial in law enforcement and detection.

The eureka moment came to him in 1984 when he realised that human DNA could produce consistent, unique patterns and that these could be used to not only identify individuals, but also indicate familial relationships.

Jeffreys’ involvement with a local double murder case in 1986 made the public – and police forces – aware of the forensic capabilities of ‘DNA fingerprinting’, and since then the technique has become an essential tool in law enforcement and detection.

Nicknamed the 'Father of Genetic Fingerprinting', Jeffreys effected global change through his landmark discovery in 1984, revolutionising forensic science, genealogy, crime and immigration investigations, earning international accolades and respect in the process.

In 2010 the discovery of DNA fingerprinting was named ‘the second most important discovery in the history of UK scientific research’ in a poll of academics.

His legacy of world-class research and its ability to change the world has not only allowed the University of Leicester to enhance its reputation, it has provided inspiration to generations of undergraduate and postgraduate students, research associates, peers as well as society.

Further reading