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Scientific research 'threatened', says DNA founder
09-11-2009, 01:14 AM, (This post was last modified: 09-11-2009, 01:15 AM by ---.)
Scientific research 'threatened', says DNA founder
Scientific research 'threatened', says DNA founder
The rise of “factory science” is putting genuinely groundbreaking research under threat, according to a leading academic.

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Published: 7:00AM BST 10 Sep 2009

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who discovered DNA fingerprinting, said it was vital that academics were allowed to carry on conducting "curiosity-driven" research.

A quarter of a century ago the scientist, now 59, stumbled across the development in a “eureka” moment.

Speaking at an event celebrating the 25th anniversary, he said “blue skies” research was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution” and warned that “you lose that at your peril”.

Sir Alec said attempts to set too many priorities and strategies in research led to “factory science” which worked towards predictable outcomes.

“I am saying you have to have a mixed economy,” he said. “You don't have to put all your eggs into this great common basket that will deliver answers to questions that you can define, because the far more exciting thing is that it delivers questions that you never knew existed - and that to me is infinitely more valuable because that sets the future agenda.”

Just past 9am on September 10, 1984, Sir Alec realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.

The technique led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, used to solve a range of crimes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration, conservation and cloning.

The University of Leicester, where Sir Alec has worked for the past 32 years, marked the occasion with a series of events, including a giant DNA model in the building where the discovery was made.

He said the discovery he would be most excited to see in the next 25 years was “extra-terrestrial life”.

“I would love to see that before I die,” he said.

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