Update: for an account of how DNA analysis confirmed the identity of Richard III, see our short article by Dr Turi King, who led this aspect of the research.
The recently-discovered skeletal remains thought to be a ‘prime candidate’ for Richard III are to undergo DNA analysis in order to confirm their identity.
This laboratory analysis will be led by Dr Turi King from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics. In a press conference earlier today (12 September), Dr King spoke of plans to extract ancient DNA from the remains, and use mitochondrial DNA to establish whether they are those of Richard III. DNA taken from archaeological samples is often referred to as Ancient DNA (aDNA).
There are two types of DNA in a cell – mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and nuclear DNA. Samples taken for analysis from archaeological bones or teeth often have no nuclear DNA left in the cells. However, mitochondrial DNA tends to survive far more readily in archaeological samples.
Mitochondrial DNA is passed down through the maternal line, from mother to child. As there is usually no change in mtDNA from parent to child, it is therefore a direct copy and is particularly useful in trying to track an individual’s ancestry.
Dr King will aim to extract mitochondrial DNA from samples of bone and teeth taken from the remains thought to be those of Richard III. Because of the good preservation of the remains, it is hopeful that mtDNA will be successfully recovered from the skeleton and suitable for analysis.
Once this DNA has been processed, this will be compared to a sample taken from Michael Ibsen, a British Canadian who has been identified by genealogist Dr. John Ashdown-Hill as Richard III’s 17th-generation nephew. As a direct descendent through the female line from Richard III’s sister, Anne of York, this makes mtDNA useful.
The analysis is expected to take 12 weeks to complete.
You can read the full story of this discovery in CA 272.
For more information on the Greyfriars excavation, click here
Click here to read more about the discovery of the body
Click here to read more about the possible battle wounds identified
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