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Archive for the tag “Sir Alec Jeffreys”

Identifying Richard’s remains is one of Sir Alec’s three proudest moments….

Sir Alec Jeffreys, the scientist who revealed the secrets of genetic fingerprinting,  remembers the exact moment of his discovery. “It was 9.05 on the morning of Monday, September 10, 1984 – it’s seared into my memory,” he said.

It may not be seared into ours in the same way, but we still marvel at the importance of his work. Just think of all the advances and mystery-solving that has resulted. He deserves our gratitude.

And Ricardians definitely appreciate him. He rates the identification of Richard III’s remains as one of the three proudest moments of his career.


“Open the Box” (or urn)?


Now that John Ashdown-Hill’s new book (bottom left) on the Tower of London and the “Princes” has been published, we are in a position to know Edward V’s mtDNA, which he would share with his brothers and maternal cousins such as Jane or Henry Pole the Younger. Progress has been made since Moran’s appendix to The Private Life of Edward IV, which detailed potential maternal line relatives who were alive as late as 2016.

Westminster Abbey is, of course, a royal peculiar and it has hitherto proven impossible to obtain permission to access those remains – of whatever number, gender, age, era or species – that purport to be those of Edward IV’s remaining sons in the modern scientific era. They were, however, last asked in 1980 (p.185) and Richard III himself has turned up by this method.

These findings ought to be a game changer and there are more good reasons to be proceed. In 1933, the work of Jeffreys, as of Crick, Watson et al, was wholly unforeseen. Radio carbon dating was also invented after the Second World War.


So, with apologies to Michael Miles and Take Your Pick (below right), is it time to “open the box”?


Somewhere to celebrate the discovery and history of DNA….?


This sounds a good idea to me. DNA is so very important, that the history of its discovery and development is important too.

More useful than ever

This is the story of a triple murder in Seattle. The trial took place in 1998 and the victims were two drug dealers and their dog, Chief. The case was also featured on an episode of CBS Reality’s “Medical Detectives” that British viewers may have seen on several occasions; most recently on the early evening of Monday 4th or 11th this month. It was established that DNA from other mammals, or almost any animal, is of as much forensic use as is human DNA. It helped that Chief was of a short-haired breed so his blood flowed easily over the killers.

Remember that human DNA was used to solve crime (the 1980s Pitchfork murder case in Leicestershire) before it could be used to conclusively identify historical individuals such as Richard III. So, thanks to the late Chief from Seattle, should you own a dog apparently descended from a Crufts champion or a horse apparently descended from a Derby winner, logic suggests that this can be proven one way or the other and not just from a pedigree on paper.

Furthermore, whichever species are in that Westminster Abbey urn, we can learn more about them.

The 1980s case that made it easier to identify Richard

Colin Pitchfork was a bakery worker who raped and murdered two teenage girls in and around Narborough between 1983-6. Although the culprit’s blood type and semen sample could be determined, the remaining evidence still left a tenth of the adult male population as subjects. (Sir) Alec Jeffreys’ DNA analysis technique had only been outlined in 1985 and not used hitherto.

The immediate prime suspect was actually another youth, who confessed to one murder, of a victim he knew, but denied the other. Jeffreys’ technique, however, proved that there was only one killer and it wasn’t Richard Buckland. Leicestershire Police then decided to request samples from the five thousand remaining possibilities but were initially unsuccessful, principally because Pitchfork had persuaded a colleague to give a sample for him. The colleague admitted this and Pitchfork’s own DNA was taken in custody, resulting in a perfect match and a life sentence.

Many people have subsequently crossed the Narborough Road without even thinking about Colin Pitchfork and I am one of them. His conviction proved the technique and it could be developed to the point of comparing Richard III’s mtDNA with that of two multiple-great-nephews. A real landmark case.

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