After 35 years' service to University of Leicester DNA fingerprinting pioneer says: 'Work must go on'
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Education and also in Communities
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys of our Department of Genetics.
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, one of Britain’s leading scientists known as the ‘Father of Genetic Fingerprinting’, has announced he is to continue his association with the University of Leicester, as an Emeritus Professor, following his retirement this month after 35 years’ service at the University.
Professor Jeffreys, who invented the revolutionary technique of DNA fingerprinting at the University of Leicester in 1984, has achieved global accolades and impact from his discovery which has transformed forensic science and identity testing.
He was awarded the highest accolade the University of Leicester could present- a Distinguished Honorary Fellowship – in 2004 when the University paid tribute to the magnitude of his achievement.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess said: “The pursuit of knowledge and quest for excellence is exemplified in the life and work of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who discovered DNA fingerprinting. His career is a testament to the values that higher education as a whole holds dear - epitomising the transformative nature of research to change the world for the better.
“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, and peers.
“Sir Alec is the epitome of the modern academic: high quality, inclusive, modest and loyal. His joy of scientific research and discovery is shared not only with staff and students but through his tireless outreach work. He loves giving lectures to the lay public and schoolchildren, telling them the story of the discovery of DNA fingerprinting and conveying the excitement of an out-of-the-blue discovery able to solve rapes, murders and questions of identity.
“On behalf of the University of Leicester, as well as personally, I would like to pay special tribute to this remarkable man who, despite lucrative offers from around the world, has remained true to his calling that led to that Eureka moment- a bench scientist whose career and contribution has been defined by the thirst for knowledge and his willingness to share this with people from all walks of life.”
Head of the Department of Genetics Professor Julian Ketley added: “Sir Alec has made an outstanding and hugely significant contribution to Genetics. He is an extraordinary bench scientist that has been an inspiration to many students and academics over the 35 years he has worked in the Department. He leaves behind him a precious legacy of talented researchers, superb science and a huge public impact. Although he is retiring, the Department hopes we will continue to enjoy his friendship, candid advice and mischievous wit for many years to come.”
Professor Jeffreys joined the Department of Genetics in 1977 as a Lecturer, and has remained at Leicester since where he has held the positions of Professor of Genetics and Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor. While studying variation in human DNA in 1984 he discovered variation in minisatellites, and developed DNA fingerprinting. Shortly afterwards he demonstrated that the technology had a host of applications ranging from criminal investigations, paternity and immigration disputes through to conservation biology. In more recent years, Professor Jeffreys has made key contributions to our understanding of fundamental processes of change in the human genome.
Professor Jeffreys’s work has received widespread recognition, including a Knighthood for services to science and technology in 1994 and the title of Honorary Freeman of the City of Leicester in 1993. He has received numerous other honours, accolades and awards during his career, including election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1986.
The Department of Genetics celebrated Professor Jeffreys’s retirement by hosting a symposium bringing together colleagues past and present.
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys said: "It's been an exhilarating 35 years and I'm so grateful to the University and to colleagues in the Department of Genetics for providing such a marvellous and supportive research environment, and for all their help, friendship and support over the years. Our science will of course continue, though it's time for me to pass the baton on to the next generation and hope that they gain as much satisfaction and pleasure from scientific enquiry as I have. I look forward to following the next Leicester discoveries with eager anticipation!"
Despite a lifetime committed to the pursuit of knowledge and sharing the joy of discovery with others, there remains one beguiling quest for him: “Extra-terrestrial life. I would love to see that before I die.”