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Image of the Week: DNA Fingerprinting

12 Sep, 2014

B0005956 The first DNA fingerprint

This week’s image of the week is one for all the detectives out there. It’s an image of the first ever DNA fingerprint, produced almost exactly 30 years ago, by Professor Sir Alex Jeffreys at the University of Leicester.

“My life changed on Monday morning at 9.05am, 10th September 1984. What emerged was the world’s first genetic fingerprint,” he says.

The image was processed in the university’s darkroom – “I took one look, thought ‘what a complicated mess’, then suddenly realised we had patterns,” says Jeffreys. “There was a level of individual specificity that was light years beyond anything that had been seen before”.

‘Eureka’ moments are few and far between in science (despite what Hollywood might have you believe), but this really was the beginning of a whole new field of science. “We could immediately see the potential for forensic investigations and paternity,” says Jeffreys, “my wife pointed out that very evening that it could be used to resolve immigration disputes by clarifying family relationships”.

During the following year, the first immigration case and the first paternity case had been solved using DNA fingerprinting, and the first identification of identical twins using the technique had also taken place. The first criminal investigation to include DNA fingerprinting evidence took place in 1986.

The techniques used for DNA profiling have been updated and optimised since this first image was developed in the darkroom 30 years ago. From helping solve crimes; determining people’s innocence and proving family relationships, DNA fingerprinting is now firmly a part of the forensics tool-kit.

Image Credit: Alec Jeffreys, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.


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