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Genetics Unzipped: The accidental discovery of genetic fingerprinting

Posted by , on 26 March 2020

First genetic fingerprint
Autoradiograph of the first genetic fingerprint, together with Alec Jeffreys’ lab book describing the experiment. 1984. Wellcome Images, CC-BY 4.0 Via Wikimedia Commons 

35 years ago this month, a small team of scientists at the University of Leicester published a paper in the journal Nature that changed the world. Written by Alec Jeffreys, Victoria Wilson and Swee Lay Thein, the title, ‘Hypervariable ‘minisatellite’ regions in human DNA’ and the jargon-filled results talking about dispersed tandem-repeats and allelic variations don’t provide much of a clue unless you know what you’re looking at. 

But it’s this last sentence of the abstract that’s the real giveaway: “A probe based on a tandem-repeat of the core sequence can detect many highly variable loci simultaneously and can provide an individual-specific DNA ‘fingerprint’ of general use in human genetic analysis.”

In the latest episode of Genetics Unzipped, we take a look at the story of genetic fingerprinting, and some of the very first ways in which this game-changing technique was put to work. 

Go to to listen or download and to get a full transcript, links and references.

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from The Genetics Society. Subscribe from Apple podcasts/iTunes, Spotify and all good podcast apps to make sure you get the latest episodes and catch up on our back catalogue.

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