Sequencing the genome of Richard III: ethical procedures

All research involving human remains is subject to strict ethical codes and procedures.

Before undertaking any of the research, the project was considered by the Ethics Committee of the University's College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology as well as the University Ethics Committee.

These committees consist of University, NHS and lay members and the ethical review process involves a thorough and detailed assessment of the work that is to be undertaken and its ramifications.

This process has been ratified by the funders, including The Wellcome Trust and The Leverhulme Trust, who gave their support to this research.

There are also national guidelines that govern the research including English Heritage/Church of England guidelines as well as Government guidelines to which we have adhered.

It is our intention, through such scientific examination, to make the results of our research available to the scientific community through peer-review publications and then to share our knowledge with the wider public.

Therefore it is essential that in the short window of opportunity that exists before reinterment, that thorough research is conducted that will be of academic and public benefit, and for posterity.

King Richard III is a figure of immense historical and cultural significance and the information that we hope to obtain from sequencing his genome will provide insights into the health and ancestry of the king and his historical environment.

He is not the first historical figure to have undergone this research.

The research process for DNA sequencing involves analysing small fragments extracted from the skeleton. During this process, the remains were treated with extreme care and with the greatest respect, and following guidelines from various organisations including the Church of England and English Heritage.

After over 500 years in the ground without a coffin, the mutilated remains are in a fragile state and an aspect of the work of the University has been to safeguard the remains for reinterment. It is hoped that, after reinterment, our research output will encourage future generations of students to  continue to learn about King Richard III.

The University of Leicester, along with our partners, are committed to treating the mortal remains with dignity and respect as we work together for a reinterment at Leicester Cathedral as soon as the legal process allows.

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