The DNA of a King: Dr Turi King on the genome sequencing of Richard III

| 12 February 2014

Dr Turi King, of the University of Leicester, on the genome sequencing of Richard III

A photo of a female scientist looking into the camera
© University of Leicester
“The way it came about is I was talking to Sir Alec Jeffreys and we were discussing how the technology exists now to do this sort of thing.

And he said to me, ‘well, would you be interested in doing that?’ I’ve been really fortunate in that the Leverhulme Trust, the Wellcome Trust and Alec have all come in together to provide the funding for me to do this sort of analysis.

I’m just finishing off the identification paper. I’m using DNA analysis as a strand of evidence to prove that these are the remains of Richard III. The next stage is actually doing the whole genome of Richard, so that is reading his entire genetic makeup.

What I’ve been doing up until now is looking at small segments of Richard’s DNA and his relatives to see whether or not they match. This is actually reading all of Richard’s DNA.

I’m going to be looking at whether he was genetically predisposed to particular diseases. We’re going to be able to look at things like eye colour, hair colour – things that tell us about what he looked like, to some extent.

That’s interesting because, for example, the portraits differ, and being able to look at eye colour and hair colour will tell us which portraits are more accurate in terms of what he actually looked like.

I’m interested in things like scoliosis – we know a little bit more about the genetic predisposition towards that as more and more research is being done. And finally the idea is that this will become a resource for people to look at.

We’re still in the early stages of genetic analysis. We don’t know everything about our genomes. But by making this available to the public it’s something that people can come back to for decades to come.

He becomes a learning resource for everybody. This project is important because he will be the first known individual where we’ve been able to do his entire genetic sequence.

It’s a really nice project. It brings together history, archaeology and genetics – all different layers of information to learn more about Richard.

He will be reinterred soon, so the ability to do this just exists for a short amount of time and I think it’s going to be really nice to learn more about Richard III as a person.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on this story:

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

Richard III body infected with roundworms, say University of Leicester archaeologists

600-year-old Richard III manuscript turns the page at Yorkshire Museum
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