Sir Alec Jeffreys
Royal Society Research Professor
Department of Genetics, University of Leicester
Human molecular genetics
"My research explores human DNA variation and the mutation processes that create this diversity. In 1978 I became one of the first to discover inherited variation in human DNA and in 1984 went on to invent DNA fingerprinting - the means by which we can identify individuals by the variations in their DNA. This breakthrough has had a dramatic impact on forensic medicine, law and criminal investigations and one of its first uses was to solve a double homicide.
My current work concentrates on developing new approaches to analysing variation and mutation in human chromosomes. I study how variation in our DNA arises. This can occur in one of two ways - either DNA can mutate, resulting in changes that can be inherited by the next generation, or it can recombine so that DNA strands are shuffled around like a deck of cards. Sometimes this process goes wrong, and the DNA rearrangement can result in inherited disorders.
My research aims to understand how mutation and recombination happen and how they are controlled. This is extremely challenging as traditional approaches, such as comparing the DNA sequences of parents and children, are barely feasible because of the small size of families. Instead, we make multiple copies of DNA sequences so that we can analyse these changes at the level of a single cell.
This research has contributed to the International HapMap Project, which investigates how DNA diversity is organised in human chromosomes. The project provides a comprehensive view of DNA diversity across the entire human genome, assisting the search for the genes involved in diseases such as diabetes and cancer. We can also explore how DNA changes caused by environmental factors - such as radiation in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion like Chernobyl - are passed down to future generations."
Read more about Sir Alec Jeffreys' work at the University of Leicester.