This week our DNA team had the privledge of attending a fundraising event hosted by the Royal Society of Biology at the Science Museum in London in which Sir Alec Jeffreys gave a personal account of the ‘eureka’ moment he had which lead to the discovery of DNA fingerprinting.

This work was pivotal in the field of genetics and Alpha Biolabs has developed procedures based on Sir Alec Jeffreys work which allows accurate, reliable and rapid testing of DNA to establish relationships.

Alec described how he got into science at an early age, after being bought a microscope and chemistry set by his dad on his 8th birthday. Describing himself as a ‘truly horrible kid’ he revealed that he now wears a beard to hide a sulphuric acid scar that he suffered while trying to make hydrogen cyanide gas in his childhood sitting room.

Responding to lively questions from the audience, Sir Alec expressed his doubts about the idea of a compulsory nationwide DNA database, ‘no database is perfect, some glitch could happen, whereby my DNA profile might come into a police investigation. So what is the benefit to me as an individual of being on that database? None. Is there a risk? Yes.’ He also spoke about the ‘real risk of a massive invasion of personal privacy’ through state surveillance.

On the subject of testing for genetic predispositions to diseases and the prospect of personalised medicine, Alec explained, ‘maybe we can recommend either medication or a change in lifestyle that could ameliorate genetic risks. That may be perceived as really good news, others may see it as the NHS playing big brother with your genome.’ Adding, ‘science and technology often runs way ahead of ethical and social debate and certainly of political decision making. Scientists are very good at coming up with whizzy new ideas. But don’t rely on us for ethical decisions. It’s up to you.’

The event raised £6,500 which will go towards the RSB’s charitable aims. The Society offers a range of support for people working in the life sciences, and aims to inspire and inform all, about the wonders of biology.

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