Why should you care about a dead king's DNA?


It would be lovely if a national government said “oh, let’s dig up every Susie Q in XYZ cemetery and do full genome testing on them.” Ain’t gonna happen. The reality is, doing the FGT on this king will have a ripple effect. It will ultimately move genetic research forward and have results which will positively affect us peons in future. But it has to start somewhere, while it’s still so expensive and time-consuming that only someone famous will rally support for the project.


Could you explain what you mean, please? I don’t particularly see this writer doing what you describe and I don’t think we are, either. In fact, a big part of why I posted this link is because you only ever hear people talk about “WOAH KING DNA” and don’t hear much questioning of why that analysis was done.

What about founder effects? As I understand it, kings got around in that era. Lots of us are in part the result of a dalliance between a Plantagenet and a mistress. Although Richard III died with neither issue nor a horse, his status does make his DNA of particular interest.

I realise that this isn’t particularly relevant to the discussion, rather a factual curio since we are talking Richard III and DNA: DNA fingerprinting was invented about 600 metres from where King Richard III’s body was found, in the same University dept. that will be sequencing his DNA.


The part I’m concerned about is where they patch the gaps with frog DNA and then populate an island with him.


Y’know what – I was reading the post on FOX’s stand on climate change and I pushed the wrong button. I should quit drinking cough syrup so early in the morning.


We should forgive her dismissive attitude, which is pretty common among “I almost have my PhD” noobs. She’s probably been pounded by her professor for not having “specific research questions.” Scientists who have been around a little longer see the value exploratory work and simply trying things that interest non-experts. Actually, I seem to remember the project was suggested by Professor Sir Alec Jefferys, the guy who (mark my words) will be winning the Nobel Prize any year now for his invention of DNA fingerprinting.

I would think that DNA analysis of a “King” would be more valuable because there is a relatively well documented family tree, along with a relatively well documented biography that would allow some heritability inquiries or correlations of behavior/health/etc to be made.

Edit: Was thinking… One of those Ancestry DNA services should pony up the funds for the analysis – they get to tell folks if they are related and Science gets the good stuff.


Worth it if the kingasaurs could chase down and eat Jeff Goldblum.

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What’s with the “race wars” term that was snuck in there by IO9?

Do you mean the link to http://io9.com/why-king-tuts-dna-is-fueling-race-wars-1539130793 ?

Seems relevant to Atkins’ blog post to me.

The original source (https://medium.com/matter/9fb62a68597b) that IO9 links to mentions nothing of the sort. It’s just gawker sensationalism. “Race war” <> “KKK assholes trying to make hay”

Plus people who seriously believe that genetic makeup of Egyptians was significantly altered by the Islamic conquest. Are Pakistanis genetically different from Indians? No.

Oh, I see what you’re saying now. Yeah you’re right, it does seem to be a clickbait article title - not surprising from any of the Gawker sites really.

Apologies for the length, but I’m going to reply to a number of points from above in this one post.

@mtdna: I think, if you read through the entire blogpost, you’ll have seen that my dismissive* attitude toward the project is actually because I tend not to support vague research aims. I am not against genome sequencing, I’m not even against sequencing Richard III’s genome, but I think that it should only be done when there are clear research questions that sequencing can assist in answering. If in the process they discover unexpected, but interesting results, that is great. Of course so much of what we know is actually discovered unintentionally. But completely speculative analysis ‘just because we can’ is not something I can get behind. It is also a pretty big claim (and incorrect) that he’ll be the first ‘known ancient individual’ to be sequenced.

Now, I am sure they actually do have clear research aims and specific research questions (they had to apply for their grants). But barely anyone knows what they are - either in the public or academic community (other than of course the research team). When you are involved in a research project worth £100,000, much of it from publicly funded organisations, I think there is a certain responsibility or even obligation to share this information. This should especially be a priority if one of the main purposes of this research project is to capture the public imagination with the interest in Richard III and use it to demonstrate the incredible processes of archaeology and aDNA analysis (and more). Heck, even PhD students like myself make our abstracts publicly available while we’re researching.

Speaking of my PhD, it’s actually going very well, thank you for asking. I submitted my penultimate progress report this week and my supervisors and advisor are very happy with my progress. I have some very interesting results (even if they weren’t what I expected) and I am very keen to share these with people - both within and outside of the academic community. I’d be very happy to talk about it someday if you like. I’m researching new methodologies in palaeodemography - in order to assess attritional and catastrophic assemblages (at the moment specifically with regards to plague burials, but I am also involved in other projects applying this methodology to other scenarios).

My position in the above blogpost has very little to do with the current state of my PhD progress or where I am in my timeline of completion. There are others who share this option - and some of them even have PhDs… while others (gasp) aren’t even researchers or academics! It is incredibly condescending to suggest that my opinions and views aren’t valid simply because I haven’t finished my PhD yet.

*If you read the notes below the main body of the post you’ll see that I’m not actually entirely dismissive or close-minded to this specific project and state that perhaps I should be patient. I wrote this blogpost because I know there are others with similar opinions to mine and those with opposing views and I wanted to engage in a discussion and debate. I consider this to be a success, as there have been numerous exchanges of points across various platforms since I posted it up.

@chgoliz: I don’t think we should be doing full genome sequencing on every individual. There are still 1000s (if not tens of 1000s) of individuals who have been excavated and remain unassessed in storage - even at the most basic level of information (age, sex, stature, pathology, etc). I’m not
saying don’t do genome sequencing, I’m just saying make sure there is a justifiable reason for doing it. As you said, it is expensive - but it is getting less expensive all the time. I imagine it’s only going to become a more common component of research projects in the  future. But personally, I’d like to know more about the 1000s of individuals who may or may not have (in)famous histories associated with them. They can still tell us a great deal of information and shouldn’t be backbenched simply because they’re not kings. They don’t grab the public’s imagination? Well then we need to take the time to ineract with people and show them exactly why these individuals are just as interesting.

@crenquis: It’s true, the ability to sequence a living relative makes this project interesting (and while not entirely unique, more unusual). I’ll admit that I’m skeptical of the amount of information that will be gained (especially as it is 17 generations down the matrilineal line) but there are certainly some aspects which may prove useful for further or future studies. One area that is very interesting is that related to scoliosis, as recent (modern) DNA analysis suggest there are specific genetic markers that can indicated the potential severity of the condition, post-diagnosis. But… (and this is one of my major gripes) we don’t actually know what they are going to be looking at once they sequence the samples.

@Woodchuck45 / @thecorrectline: Yeah, unfortunately it is a click bait headline. Perhaps I should have edited this in my post (especially given my past record for publicly shaming click bait headlines). I linked to the I09 post opposed to Medium, because while the headline is sensationalist it gives a pretty good synopsis of the piece - and if people wanted to read further they could go to the original from there. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t gone straight to the source…


How else is it going to properly kick in before lunchtime?

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Was it this cough syrup?


All I can say is, money is a huge issue in academia. Understand that the largess that enables you to get a PhD is beholden to money-making entities. You’re not as free to pursue research in any direction as you might wish. This is the direction that will enable you do to FGT on someone and get your results published. You can’t get to wished-for point Z until others help you start your journey. They’re telling you start here, not there. So here is where you start.

One could even argue that if you were better at making your case, you could have convinced them to let you start elsewhere. But you’re still a beginner, so of course your ideas, no matter how valid, aren’t going to get full consideration. C’est la vie.

I think there is too much directed research with well defined goals. There is a lot to be said for letting bright people putz around with their eyes wide open. Granted, this makes it hard to figure out which horses to bet on and makes for less compelling testimony before funding committees. Dom Perignon was hired to figure out how to keep the bubbles out of white wine, and he founded the champagne business.

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