History of DNA Finger Printing – England 1984



The recent finding of the remains of King Richard III and the DNA profiling of his remains to prove who the 500 year old skeleton was, reminded me on the discovery of DNA Finger Printing by Dr. Alec Jeffreys ( Who later became Sir Alec Jeffreys ) in Leicester, England .

The life changing moment occurred for Sir Alec Jeffreys and his team on Monday morning at 9.05 am 10th September 1984 during the study of genes. It was during this study that he and his technician, Vicky Wilson, inadvertently came across the "mini-satellites" in the gene's structure that revealed repeating sequences. What emerged was the world's first genetic fingerprint. They were getting extraordinarily variable patterns of DNA, including from our technician and her mother and father, as well as from non-human samples. The first reaction to the results was 'this is too complicated', and then the penny dropped and we realised we had genetic finger printing.

It opened up a new area of science. The research team immediately grasped its applications, including crime, paternity and identical twins, as well as work on conservation and diversity among non-human species. Later that day Sir Alec's wife added another to the list - immigration. "That was when they realised they had a political dimension and that it could change the face of immigration disputes, especially where no documentary evidence existed.

DNA fingerprinting is a powerful forensic technology that many argue is the greatest tool in the history of forensic science.  But as is often the case for new technologies, its acceptance by society was not straightforward.  DNA evidence is now one of the most powerful tools used in determining who is responsible for a crime.  With criminals altering their fingerprints and other physical characteristics, DNA evidence is one of the only true methods to correctly identify an individual. 

DNA fingerprinting has many applications that range from criminal rape cases, paternity tests, sports memorabilia, molecular archaeology ( A case in point is identifying the 500 year old remains of King Richard III in Leicester in January 2013 ) etc. The DNA molecule is like a fingerprint in that there are no two exactly alike, but is one of the only things in common that all biological organisms are created with.


The First Prosecution in the world using DNA finger printing concerned Colin Pitchfork, a local baker. On September 19, 1987 Pitchfork was arrested at his home in Haybarn Close in the neighbouring village of Littlethorpe, Leicester, England.  He pleaded guilty on two rape/murders in addition to another incident of sexual assault that he had committed. He was sentenced to Life Imprisonment and concurrent terms for rape and murder, but with no minimum sentence (thus, presenting the opportunity for release after ten years.



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