Leicester Professor in Shortlist for European Inventor of the Year 2007
Genetic fingerprint pioneer Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys nominated for top innovation prize
16 March 2007
The European Inventor of the Year 2007 awards will be presented on 18 April - Prize awarded jointly by the EU Commission and the European Patent Office
Munich/Brussels, 15 March 2007
On 18 April 2007 the European Inventor of the Year awards will be presented at a gala event in Munich. This is the second time that outstanding inventors will be honoured with the award instituted by the EU Commission and European Patent Office (EPO).
The finalists selected by an independent high-profile international jury have just been announced in the four categories: Industry, SMEs/Research, Non-European Countries and Lifetime Achievement. One in each category will receive the prestigious European innovation award from EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen and EPO President Alain Pompidou.
The awards recognise innovators and innovations that have made a significant and lasting contribution to technical development in Europe and beyond, and thus strengthened Europe's economic position. The inventions range widely from a patent that revolutionised the way pacemakers work and has helped save thousands of lives, to biodegradable plastics made of plant starch and an innovation that plays a key role in sensor technology. Since innovation is often the result of teamwork, teams as well as individuals were nominated.
Of the three inventors nominated for lifetime achievement awards, two are British:
Professor Marc Feldman from the Kennedy Institute, Imperial College, London, for the discovery of the role played by cytokines in autoimmune disease, and the development of a cure that has helped millions of patients throughout the world.
Sir Alec Jeffreys from the University of Leicester for the discovery of the DNA fingerprint, which has revolutionised the fields of biotechnology, archaeology and forensics, to name but a few.
The European Inventor of the Year stands out among the array of innovation awards not just because of the quality and prominence of the winning researchers. It is also unique in its geographical span and selection procedure. In making its nominations, the jury was also able to draw on the expertise of the 3 500 EPO patent examiners. It looked at inventions that had been patented and successfully marketed between 1992 and 2001, twelve of which were nominated by the nine-member jury.
To find out more about the European Inventor of the Year 2007, see www.european-inventor.org
For further information, and accreditation and interview requests, please contact
Director Media Relations
European Patent Office
Erhardtstr. 27 | D-80469 Munich
Tel. +49 (0)89 2399-1820
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Follow the Fingerprint
British innovator says goodbye Sherlock Holmes, hello CSI
Sir Alec Jeffreys revolutionised everything from criminal investigations to paternity
lawsuits through his discovery of the unique DNA fingerprint. Nominated in the Lifetime
category of European Inventor of the Year, modern forensics, archaeology and biology
all use his incredible breakthrough.
It was only in the mid-1970s that studies of the human DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)
showed that every person’s DNA – the genetic blueprint controlling the action of every
one of the body's 10 trillion cells – had slight variations that were signature trademarks.
Sir Alec Jeffreys was only 27 when he made the breakthrough at the University of
Leicester, England in 1977. He was studying variations in human DNA, especially
those differences observed at highly variable repeat DNA sequences.
Using his combined understanding of both molecular biology and genetics, he found
that no two strands of DNA were completely alike. Jeffreys essentially came across the
individual variations that make every person’s DNA one of a kind.
The first regional screening of human DNA on a broad scale – using saliva samples
from men fitting the suspect demographic – was conducted in 1983 after the murder of
two girls in the town of Narborough, England. Since then, DNA fingerprinting (using
blood, sweat, hair or sperm) has been applied in criminal cases around the world with
Jeffreys, now 57, still teaches and works at the University of Leicester and has
continued to advance techniques for DNA fingerprinting, registering several more
patents. He also originated methods for DNA profiling – a refinement of the DNA
fingerprinting technique based on highly variable “mini-satellites” in the human
genome. These are select pieces in the otherwise relatively long and complex strand of
DNA, where most variations between people occur.
These DNA profiles can be stored in computer databases, where they can be
compared and matched with other profiles and samples.
Despite its advantages, the storage of DNA data for law enforcement purposes has
drawn some criticism over the years, not least from Jeffreys himself. As a
spokesperson for civil rights groups that advocate every individual’s rights to his or her
DNA, Jeffreys proposes the creation of an independent agency for storing and securing
the sensitive data.
Whether it’s solving historic puzzles such as the nationality of Christopher Columbus,
fighting crime, or studying genetics in wildlife, it’s now impossible to imagine our world
without Jeffrey’s DNA fingerprint discovery.