January 9 is the birthday of Professor Sir Alec John Jeffreys, the British geneticist who invented DNA fingerprinting and its use in criminalistics.
Jefferys remembers the exact moment his life changed on September 10, 1984 at 9:05 am, when he unexpectedly observed unique similarities and differences in the DNA of a technician’s family members. “In science it is unusual to have such a ‘eureka’ moment,” he recalls. At the age of 34, Jefferys had discovered the world’s first genetic fingerprints.
A year later, the new technology was able to confirm the identity of a boy in a disputed immigration case.
But its first application in criminal forensics was absolutely remarkable. Two girls were found raped and murdered. After a suspect confessed to one of the murders, police sought DNA fingerprinting to prove that he was guilty of the other as well. To their surprise, he was found to be innocent in both cases. Jeffery’s DNA fingerprinting technology was later used to identify the real culprit, a serial murderer.
In addition to DNA fingerprinting, many other amazing tools and technologies are being used to analyze evidence collected at crime scenes. Like DNA fingerprinting, Agilent’s forensic tools are often used to identify and compare patterns of information, creating a different kind of forensic “fingerprint.” By characterizing physical evidence, experts can determine if material found on a suspect matches that found at a crime scene.
For example, Italian researchers reported how Agilent helped with critical evidence in a 2010 murder investigation. Two soil samples were collected. The first came from the crime scene in a corn field. The second came from the suspect’s car found in a distant location. Using an Agilent ICP-MS, which can rapidly identify all the trace metals or elements present in a sample, the investigators were able to show that both soil samples had an identical elemental “fingerprint.” This confirmed that the soil found in the car came from the crime scene, thus putting the suspect at the scene of the crime.
For more information go to:
- The history of genetic fingerprinting (University of Leicester)
- Eureka moment that led to the discovery of DNA fingerprinting (The Guardian)
- Chemical Elemental Distribution and Soil DNA Fingerprints Provide the Critical Evidence in Murder Case Investigation
- Agilent ICP-MS Systems
- Agilent Forensics Solutions