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From 1951 to 2001, researchers at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, conducted the British Doctors’ Study, a study that examined the smoking habits, disease rates, and mortality rates of physicians in Britain. Two epidemiologists, scientists who study occurrence and distribution of disease, Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill, initiated the study, and statistician Richard Peto joined the team in 1971. The objective of the study was to assess the risks associated with tobacco use, and its relationship to lung cancer.
In a series of experiments in the late 1970s, Alec J. Jeffreys in the UK and Richard A. Flavell in the Netherlands developed a technique to detect variations in the DNA of different individuals. They compared fragments of DNA from individuals’ beta-globin genes, which produce a protein in hemoglobin. Previously, to identify biological material, scientists focused on proteins rather than on genes. But evidence about proteins enabled scientists only to exclude, but not to identify, individuals as the sources of the biological samples.