The researchers mapped the 3 dimensional structure of an enzyme responsible for splitting DNA strands - a process at the heart of human individuality.
Using X-ray crystallography techniques, T7 endonuclease 1 enzyme's structure was discovered.
The enzyme is derived from a bacteriophage - a naturally occurring virus-like agent that attacks bacteria - but the molecular processes are expected to be similar in other organisms, including humans.
In humans, this process starts at conception when maternal and paternal DNA strands join together at random points in their sequence. Enzymes such as T7 endonuclease 1 are then responsible for severing the strands at this junction, thus creating a third, unique DNA sequence for the offspring.
However, Professor Phillips said that it would be some time before this process can be observed in humans.
"It's too important a discovery to rush. Our next step is to examine the process in a more complex system than bacteriophage, such as yeast," he said