The scientist behind DNA fingerprinting has called for a change to the law governing DNA databases on the 25th anniversary of his discovery.
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys uncovered the process by chance in his laboratory at Leicester University. The technique has since been used to solve crimes and identity cases. But it has also led to controversy over profiles kept on the national DNA database. “Innocent people do not belong on that database,” he said. The scientist stumbled across the groundbreaking development on 10 September, 1984. He realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.
‘Blue skies research’ It led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, which has been used to solve a range of crimes. Last year, 17,614 offences were solved using a DNA match, including 83 killings and 184 rapes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration, conservation and cloning.
In an interview to mark the anniversary of his discovery, Professor Jeffreys spoke of the importance of allowing academics freedom to research. Professor Jeffreys He said academics should be able to pursue “unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven” research. “Blue skies” research, which led to discoveries such as his own, was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution,” he said, warning: “You lose that at your peril.”
He renewed his calls for the government to change the law governing the UK’s DNA databases – particularly the practice in England and Wales of keeping the DNA profiles of thousands of people who have neither been charged nor convicted. There are now more than five million profiles on the national DNA database, a rise of 40% in two years. He told the BBC: “My view is very, very simple, has been right from the outset. “Innocent people do not belong on that database. Branding them as future criminals is not proportionate response in the fight against crime. “And I’ve met a fair number of these people and some of these people are very, very upset and are distressed by the fact that their DNA is on that database. They cannot get it off and they feel as if they’re branded as criminals.“