Scientists to map the genome of medieval English king Richard III


This skeleton has been identified as the remains of King Richard III, who died in 1485. (University of Leicester/Via AP)
February 17, 2014
Discovery of skeleton lets scientists plan to sequence Richard III’s genome

A year after they revealed that a twisted skeleton found under a parking lot was the remains of King Richard III, scientists in Britain plan to grind samples of his ancient bones and use them to map his genome.

The project aims to learn about Richard’s ancestry and health, and provide a genetic archive for historians, researchers and the public.

In one of the most significant archaeological finds of recent English history, the skeleton was dug up in the city of Leicester and unveiled last year as that of the king slain as he fought to keep his crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

After taking a small sample of bone from the skeleton, Turi King of the University of Leicester’s genetics department will grind it to a powder, extract DNA and seek to piece together Richard’s genetic code.

“It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. You tile it together to get as much of the genome as possible,” King said last week.


The remains of England’s King Richard III, which were found in a dig in Leicester, England, in Sept. 2012. (University of Leicester/AP)

Richard III’s remains and any samples taken from them are to be reinterred at some point, although the issue of when and where is now a legal dispute.

The University of Leicester, whose archaeologists found and exhumed the remains, were given permission from Britain’s Ministry of Justice to rebury the king at Leicester Cathedral. Richard’s descendants began legal action arguing that there should be a judicial review of the decision. They want him buried in York, the northern England power base of his 26-month reign.

King said that because the remains, including any samples taken by her team, are to be reburied, it was timely to extract the DNA and sequence his genome now for use as a future research resource. She warned, however, that since the remains are so old, his DNA is fragmented and may not produce a complete genetic map.

“There may be gaps, but we’ll just have to go with what we can get. That’s science, unfortunately,” she said.

King said the aim of the research was to gain insight into Richard’s genetic makeup, including his susceptibility to certain diseases and his hair and eye color.

The gene mapping is also expected to shed light on his ancestry and relationship to modern human populations.

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