DNA pioneer says Britain's forensic science research base in danger of disappearing

29 February 2012

The British geneticist who pioneered techniques for DNA fingerprinting and profiling said the death of the government's Forensic Science Service (FSS) tomorrow could leave a world leading research base in terminal decline.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, whose forensic science techniques are used all over the work to catch criminals, said Britain's pioneering role in this field would come to an end unless its "parlous" position was reversed.

The FSS is being wound down tomorrow - the same day Professor Jeffreys gives a lecture at the RSC on genetic fingerprinting. He will also be made a Royal Society of Chemistry Honorary Fellow tomorrow night at the event in the Chemistry Centre at Burlington House, Piccadilly.

"The death of what was once the flagship of UK forensic science is very sad," he told the Royal Society of Chemistry, "and the future of UK forensic research is parlous in the extreme, though in fairness some of the commercial providers do conduct research though largely at the translational end of the spectrum. 

"The sad fact remains that any future transformative development in forensics is most unlikely to emerge from the UK unless the science base is rescued."

Professor Jeffreys, professor of genetics at the University of Leicester, said he will be discussing in his public lecture potential new approaches to analysing crime scene DNA.

"I will be touching on some future possibilities offered by DNA, such as universal databasing, prediction of appearance and behaviour from DNA variants, the potential for very high throughput DNA sequencing to provide new approaches to interrogating crime-scene DNA, and the challenge of developing fast, real-time typing systems for security applications," he said.

The decision to axe the FSS was made months before Professor Jeffreys gave his negative views on the closure to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which reported its findings last July.

He said today: "Essentially it is already closed with only a handful of curators left and virtually all of the 1500 employees gone."

Professor Jeffreys has referred to the closure decision as "an unimaginative bean-counting mentality that fails to understand how forensic science progresses".

A poll of 365 forensic scientists by New Scientist earlier this month found that 75% believed the axing of the FSS would result in a higher number of miscarriages of justice.

Notes for editors:

  • Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys's public lecture is entitled Genetic fingerprinting: past, present and future.  He will also be presented with his RSC Honorary Fellowship by RSC President Professor David Phillips.    

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