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Genetics: Identification of the remains of King Richard III

Nature Communications

December 3, 2014

DNA analysis of the remains believed to be those of English monarch Richard III are published online this week in Nature Communications. The results appear to confirm, beyond reasonable doubt, that they are those of the monarch and, at 529 years since his death, conclude what is the oldest DNA identification case of a known individual, to date.

Last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard III’s contentious rise to power and comparatively short reign made him one of England’s most famous and controversial kings. Following his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field he was buried at Grey Friars in Leicester; however, after the dissolution of the friary in 1538, the location of his grave was lost. In September 2012, a skeleton matching the expected archaeological, osteological, and radiocarbon dating profile of Richard III was excavated at the presumed site of the friary.

To confirm that this skeleton, called Skeleton 1, was that of the monarch, Turi King, Kevin Schurer and colleagues conducted an integrative analysis of genetic, genealogical and other data. They find a perfect mitochondrial DNA match between the sequence obtained from the remains and one living relative, and a single-base substitution when compared to a second relative. The Y-chromosome sequence from Skeleton 1 does not match that of male-line relatives of Richard III, but this is not surprising given that a false-paternity event could have occurred in any of the intervening generations. While no contemporary portraits of Richard III survive, (all postdate his death by approximately 25 years) the DNA-predicted hair and eye colour are also consistent with his appearance in an early portrait. Combining genetic and non-genetic data the authors conclude that the evidence for these remains being Richard III is overwhelming.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms6631

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