Richard III DNA tests to reveal hair, eyes and diseases of the King

By Ben Miller | 12 February 2014

The genomes of Richard III and his proven relative are to be sequenced

A photo of a female scientists working in a laboratory while wearing a white coat
Dr Turi King, of the University of Leicester© University of Leicester
Otzi the Iceman, Neanderthal specimens, a Denisovan and a Greenlandic Inuit and a hunter gatherer from Spain make up the small and ancient cast to have had their genomes sequenced. Now Richard III will join them, with Dr Turi King, of the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, set to analyse the hair, eyes and genetic fallibilities of the king found under a car park.

“It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England,” says King, whose work with peers at the University of Potsdam is being funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust and Sir Alec Jeffreys, the professor behind DNA fingerprinting.

“At the same time we are in the midst of a new age of genetic research, with the ability to sequence entire genomes from ancient individuals and, with them, those of pathogens that may have caused infectious disease.

“Sequencing the genome of Richard III is a hugely important project that will help to teach us not only about him, but ferment discussion about how our DNA informs our sense of identity, our past and our future.”

The 15th century ruler’s remains have fascinated scientists since they were officially revealed to the world a year ago. This research is particularly likely to tell the world more - the sequencing of the Iceman leading to the first example of human infection with Lyme disease.

One of Richard’s descendants, Michael Ibsen, will also be sequenced, with an analysis of the DNA of his mitochondria - described as “the batteries that power the cells in our bodies” - confirming his relationship through maternal lineage.

“Sequencing Richard III’s genome will not only give us a unique insight into the past, but have a profound impact on the way we think about disease and heredity in our own genomic age,” says Dr Dan O’Connor, of the Wellcome.

“By making this genome available to all, we will ensure that we can continue to learn about Richard’s past - both personal and historic - even once his remains have been interred.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on this story:

Uncertainty over reburial of Richard III as Leicester and York await judicial review

Richard III: Archaeologist Claire Calver on the search for the King's body in Leicester

University of Leicester archaeologists bid farewell to Grey Friars site of Richard III body
Latest comment: >Make a comment
"...ferment discussion about how our DNA..." ?? Hardly. I think you mean "foment discussion".
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