Richard III: Scientists to sequence DNA

  • 12 February 2014
  • From the section Leicester
Skull of Richard III
Image caption The project will allow DNA testing to take place before the remains are reburied

The DNA of Richard III is to be mapped, potentially revealing details like hair and eye colour, researchers have said.

The project is to be led by the University of Leicester geneticist who helped identify the remains.

His remains were found in a Leicester car park in 2012.

The £100,000 study, expected to last at least 18 months, aims to provide an archive of Richard III's DNA information for historians, scientists and the public.

Details of Richard III's appearance are not known for certain because all portraits of him were done long after his death.

He died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but his grave was lost when the surrounding church was demolished.

The sequencing will be led by Leicester genetics expert Turi King.

Among the figures of historical importance whose remains have undergone such a procedure are Otzi the Iceman, who was discovered on the Alpine border between Italy and Austria in 1991; a 4,000-year-old Greenlandic Inuit and a 7,000-year-old hunter gatherer from Spain found in 2006.

The research will allow scientists to decide if Richard III suffered from conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or scoliosis or if he had a "genetic predisposition" to them.

Dr King and her colleagues will also sequence the DNA of one of Richard III's living relatives, Canadian Michael Ibsen, whose DNA was used to confirm the king's identity.

"It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England," Dr King said.

She said researchers can now "sequence entire genomes from ancient individuals and with them, those of pathogens that may have caused infectious disease".

"You can actually look across his entire genetic make-up and say something about his ancestry - it is likely he was northern European," she added.

However, the DNA research was "not likely" to allow people to find out more easily if they are directly related to Richard III, a spokeswoman added.

The final resting place of the remains is still the subject of a legal case, with some distant relatives calling for the bones to go to York, rather than Leicester.

The project will be funded by Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity, the Leverhulme Trust and DNA fingerprinting and profiling pioneer Sir Alec Jeffreys.

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