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Genetic fingerprinting

revealing our unique DNA profile Midlands,

Columns with bars in different shades of grey.
Part of first genetic fingerprint, 1984. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

At 09.05 on 10 September 1984, in a laboratory at the University of Leicester, the world’s first genetic fingerprint was revealed. 

Alec Jeffreys (born 1950) was investigating highly repetitive zones of the human genetic code called ‘minisatellites’, where there is much variation from person to person. He wanted to study these hot spots of genetic change to find the cause of the DNA diversity that makes every human being unique. 

During this study he saw a fuzzy pattern on an X-ray film he had made of genetic material from one of his technicians, Vicky Wilson. Looking at the X-ray he thought: ‘That’s a mess.’ Then he realised this ‘mess’ showed not only which parts of Wilson’s DNA came from her mother and which from her father, but also the unique genetic code she possessed, one shared by no other human being on the planet. In that eureka moment, the science of DNA fingerprinting was born. 

This opened the whole science of DNA profiling - for resolving paternity issues, studying wildlife populations and, of course, criminal investigations. DNA fingerprinting was first used by police to identify the rapist and killer of two teenage girls murdered in Narborough, Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986 respectively. 

Science Museum

Decade
Type
Biology,
Region
Midlands
Location
University of Leicester
Key Individuals
Alec Jeffreys,