University of Leicester DNA pioneer voices concerns over Government funding cuts
A world-renowned scientist says Government plans to slash research funding could mean the country missing out on economic opportunities.
University of Leicester professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who pioneered DNA fingerprinting, said the groundbreaking discovery in 1984 would not have been possible if adequate funding had not been available.
He said he was "horrified" by Business Secretary Vince Cable's latest comments which signal tough curbs are likely on scientific investment.
His discovery that everyone has a unique genetic make-up has been used in thousands of paternity cases and solved murder and rape cases. His research was used to help identify the skeletal remains of Nazi Josef Mengele.
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Mr Cable has hinted the Comprehensive Spending Review due next month will squeeze resources for research.
He said: "There is no justification for taxpayers' money being used to support research which is neither commercially useful not theoretically outstanding."
Most university research cash comes from Government research councils, with the rest from charities and industry.
Prof Jeffreys said his discovery was possible only thanks to the £100,000-or-so funding he got. He said: "The way forward isn't simply funding science with clear and direct results.
"The key is to support excellent science. Not everyone can hit the jackpot – it's about sowing seeds and if one of those creates a billion pound industry then it makes up for the rest.
"Science creates wealth – we need only to look at the pharmaceutical and engineering industries. If funding isn't there, researchers will go elsewhere.
"Britain has an enviable track record in terms of research, with a number of Nobel prize winners. Much of that has had a real impact on society, including DNA fingerprinting.
"These are questions which just wouldn't stand a chance of being researched if funding wasn't available."
He said the funding application process was vigorous enough, and for Mr Cable to suggest rationing it further was "flawed and misguided".
Mark Sims, professor of astrobiology and space infrastructure at the University of Leicester, said: "There are big fears in terms of science and education. The Government puts in about £270m into space research and the economic return is about £6bn, which is pretty good. The return is a result of the excellent work coming out of our university science, technology, engineering and maths departments.
"People have beaten a path to the UK's door to get satellites and help with space missions."
He said if the funding goes, scientists overseas would capture that market.
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said: "Public spending on science, like everything else, has to stand up to rigorous economic scrutiny."