Eminent inventor of DNA fingerprinting gains new recognition

The inventor of DNA Fingerprinting at the University of Leicester, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, is to be honoured with a prestigious international accolade later this year, it has been announced.

Sir Alec, who is Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor in the Department of Genetics, is to be awarded the Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics 2006 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in recognition of the discovery of the revolutionary technique.

The Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics ($150,000) is one of six prizes in sciences and arts to be presented on Thursday 28 September 2006 during a special session of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences at the Beurs van Berlage Building in Amsterdam.

A statement on the award pays tribute to Sir Alec's invention: "Since his discovery, it has been possible to identify every individual from any cell in his or her body, the only exception being identical twins, who share the same DNA pattern. The consequences of Jeffreys' discovery have been so far-reaching and rapid that it is virtually impossible to imagine the world without it. His technique - DNA fingerprinting - allows us to answer such questions as: Who is the biological father of a child? Whose blood, sweat, hair or sperm has been left behind at the scene of a crime? Who is this tsunami victim? Are these bones truly the remains of the last Czar of Russia? Jeffreys' technique was even able to tell us whether Dolly was in fact the clone of another sheep.

"The new discipline of forensic molecular biology is therefore a direct outcome of Jeffreys' research, but his discoveries have also opened up other doors, for example the ability to determine whether someone is a carrier of certain pathogenic genes. Most recently, Jeffreys has concentrated on genetic mutations and environmental factors. He is, for example, studying how irradiation may have caused genetic mutations in families from Chernobyl." Luton-born Sir Alec has formerly studied in Amsterdam as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Piet Borst, a 1994 Heineken prizewinner. Sir Alec said:

"I am honoured indeed to be numbered among the eminent scientists who have been recognised with this prestigious prize. Genetic fingerprinting continues to expand the horizons of knowledge and it is humbling to realise how a chance discovery in my lab in Leicester over 20 years ago has gone on to make a revolutionary impact in the world." Sir Alec is no stranger to awards. Last year he was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research and has previously been awarded the Davy Medal by the Royal Society in 1987, a Knighthood for services to genetics in 1994, the Australia Prize in 1998 and the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 2004. Amongst a host of other awards are a number of honorary degrees and the Freedom of the City of Leicester.

Sir Alec studied biochemistry and received his PhD in 1975 at Oxford University. He then joined the laboratory of Piet Borst for a post-doctoral research at the Department of Medical Enzymology and Molecular Biology at the University of Amsterdam. In 1977, he joined the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester where he became a professor in genetics in 1987. Sir Alec has been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1986 and the Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor since 1991. He is also a member of EMBO, of Academia Europaea and of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

About the prize

The Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics (named after the father of Alfred Heineken) is the oldest of the Heineken Prizes and has been awarded since 1964. Previous prizewinners include Christian de Duve (winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Medicine), Michael Berridge, Piet Borst, Paul Nurse (2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine), James Rothman and Andrew Fire. For more background information, see http://www.knaw.nl/heinekenprizes.

The awards ceremony

The six Heineken Prizes for science, scholarship and art are presented every other year during a special session of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. This year the presentation will take place on Thursday 28 September at the Beurs van Berlage Building in Amsterdam.

The Department of Genetics, University of Leicester The Department of Genetics is accommodated in modern laboratories provided with all the facilities necessary for fundamental research and training in genetics. It is one of the largest Departments of Genetics in the United Kingdom and was rated at a Grade 5* in the 2001 national research assessment exercise. It has a diversity of active research groups with a common approach, the use of molecular techniques to resolve the problems addressed.

The Department was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2002, for pioneering research and its impact on society.

The work of the Department ranges from the study of prokaryote systems, yeast and other lower eukaryotes, to behaviour and development in fruit-flies and other animals, the human genome, aspects of medical genetics and the genetics of evolution.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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