DNA prof doubts govt’s science commitment

By Alex Stevenson

The government may not have “got the full message” on the need for blue-skies scientific research, the discoverer of DNA fingerprinting has said.

On the 25th anniversary of his revolutionary breakthrough Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys has undermined Labour’s claims it is the best party to safeguard scientific research in the UK.

But Sir Alec remains unsatisfied with the government’s level of commitment to “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution,” he said in a speech in Oxford.

“You lose that at your peril,” he warned, arguing the alternative – research specifically tasked with finding the solutions to questions which need to be answered – does not address ‘known unknowns’.

“I’m saying you have to have a mixed economy,” he said.

“You don’t 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.”

Sir Alec was recently awarded an honorary distinguished fellowship, the highest accolade of the University of Leicester where he has worked for 32 years.

The biggest discovery he would be keen to see in the next 25 years is extra-terrestrial life, he said.