Monday, January 12, 2015

Obtaining DNA from Ancient Skeletons

Published with permission by Dr. Nick Penington, PRA DNA Chairman

Melinda and Gene this is an amazing abstract below published in Nature this week. It speaks for itself but significantly it shows one can get DNA from ancient skeletons hundreds of years old and compare the DNA with relatives. Richard the third who died in battle in 1485 at Bosworth field is perhaps the only English king whose remains were lost! Richard the III had no male descendants so they went a couple of generations up and then down his cousins lineage to find living male relatives today  (descendants of the Dukes of Beaufort -they in theory should match his Y-chromosome very closely). However, the male line relatives did not match suggesting that there was what is called a "Non Paternal Event" at some time in the 13 or so generations between them. Note that these descendants are still legally the descendants of their original ancestor (John of Gaunt) but not genetically. The exciting finding was that one of the proven female direct line relatives had a perfect match with the full mitochondrial DNA sequence and another had only one mutation in over 500 years. This proves that this is the skeleton of Richard III ! The news letter might be interested in this.

Here is the abstract of the beautifully written paper by Turi King et. al.:

In 2012, a skeleton was excavated at the presumed site of the Grey Friars friary in Leicester, the last-known resting place of King Richard III. Archaeological, osteological and radiocarbon dating data were consistent with these being his remains. Here we report DNA analyses of both the skeletal remains and living relatives of Richard III. We find a perfect mitochondrial DNA match between the sequence obtained from the remains and one living relative, and a single-base substitution when compared with a second relative. Y-chromosome haplotypes from male-line relatives and the remains do not match, which could be attributed to a false-paternity event occurring in any of the intervening generations. DNA-predicted hair and eye colour are consistent with Richard’s appearance in an early portrait. We calculate likelihood ratios for the non-genetic and genetic data separately, and combined, and conclude that the evidence for the remains being those of Richard III is overwhelming.

Here is the link to the original article published in Nature, December 2, 2014.

Nature Communications 5, Article number:  5631
Received 05 August 2014
Accepted 21 October 2014
Published 02 December 2014