The King's DNA

Whole Genome Sequencing of Richard III and his proven relatives

This project is funded by The Leverhulme Trust, The Wellcome Trust and Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys.

This project has been subject to review by the College of Medicine and Biological Sciences Research Ethics Committee.

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This project is comprised of three parts:

  1. Whole genome sequencing of Richard III. This will allow insight into his genetic makeup and predisposition to disease. There is still a great deal we do not know about our genomes and this project will therefore involve scanning Richard's genome for genetic variants that are known to be associated with particular characteristics (curly hair, straight hair, lactose intolerance, for example) and disease (predisposition to conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimers and so on) at the present time.  For many conditions we still don't know the complete picture of any underlying genetic component.  There are only hints as to regions of the genome which may be involved in the development of scoliosis, for example, and it will be interesting, given that Richard had scoliosis, to see what variants he carries in these regions.  As Richard's genome will be made available, it will be something that scientists, medical historians, students and the public alike can revisit as more is understood about how our genome works, to see how Richard himself may have been affected.
  2. While carrying out whole genome sequencing of Richard, DNA from other organisms will be detected, such as bacteria and viruses. These may provide information about any infections he might have had.  Sequencing of Otzi the Iceman revealed the first known case of Lyme disease.
  3. Whole genome sequencing of Richard's proven relative. Michael Ibsen is known to be related to Richard III through the female line and acted as a comparator for the identification of Richard III using mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is a small segment of DNA which is only passed down the female line. Since Richard and Michael shared a common female ancestor, this was expected to show a match between them. We are now interested in looking at the rest of their genomes to see if they share any further segments of their DNA. Given the time depth between them, it is not expected that there will be any sharing of their DNA through their being related, but it will be interesting to see if there are any segments that can be detected.


At the end of the project, Richard III's genome will be made available online as a resource.  It is hoped that it will be become a resource for everyone from scientists, to medical historians, to microbiologists, to teachers, students and the general public as a way of learning about genetics and about Richard as well as adding a new chapter to Richard's legacy.

Dr Turi King is carrying out this project in collaboration with Professor Michael Hofreiter at the University of Potsdam.

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