Genomes of Richard III and his proven relative to be sequenced

Posted by er134 at Feb 11, 2014 05:55 PM |
Project led by Dr Turi King of the University of Leicester

Issued by University of Leicester, Wellcome Trust and The Leverhulme Trust on 11 February 2014

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Video of Dr Turi King discussing the new project available at:

Dr Turi King’s interview answers are available as Apple Pro Res video clips on request at:

The genomes of King Richard III and one of his family’s direct living descendants are to be sequenced in a project funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust and Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys. The project will be led by Dr Turi King of the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester.

The aim is to shed new light on the ancestry and health of the last king of England to die in battle, and provide a complete archive of information that historians, scientists and the public will be able to access and use.

A skeleton was excavated from a car park in Leicester and subsequently revealed to be the remains of Richard III to the world at a press conference on 4 February 2013 by a team of archaeologists and scientists from the University of Leicester. His remains and any samples taken from them are scheduled to be reinterred and for this reason, Dr Turi King and colleagues plan to sequence his genome and make it freely accessible as a resource to researchers wishing to analyse and interrogate its genetic information.

Richard III will be one of only a small number of ancient individuals to have had their genomes sequenced. Others include Otzi the Iceman, Neanderthal specimens, a Denisovan and a Greenlandic Inuit and a hunter gatherer from Spain.  Richard III will be the first ancient individual of known identity to have his genome sequenced. This will be carried out in collaboration with Professor Michael Hofreiter at the University of Potsdam.

Analysis of Richard III's genome will allow insight into his genetic make-up, including susceptibility to certain diseases, hair and eye colour, and as the genetic basis of other diseases becomes known, these too can be examined for. It is also expected to shed light on his genetic ancestry and relationship to modern human populations. In addition, next generation sequencing technologies will allow the researchers to detect DNA from other organisms such as pathogens. Whole genome sequencing from Otzi the Iceman found the first known human infection with Lyme disease, for example.

Dr King says: “It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England. At the same time we are in the midst of a new age of genetic research, with the ability to sequence entire genomes from ancient individuals and with them, those of pathogens that may have caused infectious disease. Sequencing the genome of Richard III is a hugely important project that will help to teach us not only about him, but ferment discussion about how our DNA informs our sense of identity, our past and our future.”

In addition to sequencing the remains of Richard III, Dr King and colleagues will also sequence one of his living relatives, Michael Ibsen. An initial analysis of the DNA of his mitochondria – the batteries that power the cells in our bodies – which is passed down the maternal line, confirmed the genealogical evidence that Ibsen and Richard III shared the same lineage. A more detailed analysis is due to be published shortly. This new project will allow researchers to look for any other segments of DNA that these distant relatives share.

Dr Dan O’Connor, Head of Medical Humanities at the Wellcome Trust, says: “We are delighted that, through our Research Resources grants programme, we are able to support this innovative and fascinating work. Sequencing Richard III’s genome will not only give us a unique insight into the past, but have a profound impact on the way we think about disease and heredity in our own genomic age. By making this genome available to all, we will ensure that we can continue to learn about Richard’s past – both personal and historic – even once his remains have been interred.”

Professor Gordon Marshall, Director of the Leverhulme Trust said: “The Leverhulme Trust has a long-standing tradition of funding research that crosses the boundaries between academic disciplines. We are pleased to support Dr Turi King’s project to sequence Richard III’s genome, which brings together archaeology, anthropology and genetics in a particularly innovative and unusually tangible way.”

The University of Leicester requires research projects concerning human subjects to receive ethical approval. The project has been reviewed by the Ethics Committee of the University of Leicester’s College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology.


  • The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.
  • Background Q & A on Richard III and genome sequencing

Contact to request images

Video of Dr Turi King discussing the new project available at:

Dr Turi King’s interview answers are available as Apple Pro Res video clips on request at:


Craig Brierley

Media Relations Manager

The Wellcome Trust


Ather Mirza

Director of Press and Corporate News

University of Leicester



Notes for editors

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.

About the University of Leicester

We are a leading UK University committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is the most socially inclusive of Britain's top-20 leading universities. The University of Leicester is The Times/Sunday Times 2014 University of the Year Runner-Up and the THE University of the Year 2008-9.  Leicester is the only University to win seven consecutive awards from the Times Higher. In awarding the title the judges cited Leicester’s ability to “evidence commitment to high quality, a belief in the synergy of teaching and research and a conviction that higher education is a power for good”. Leicester was, said the judges, "elite without being elitist".  Leicester is ranked 13th  out of 119 institutions by The Guardian University Guide; 14th out of 121 institutions by The Times/Sunday Times and the University is ranked among the top two-per cent in the world by the QS World University Rankings,  Taiwan World University Rankings and THE World University Rankings.

About the Leverhulme Trust

The Leverhulme Trust was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 we have provided grants and scholarships for research and education; today we are one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing over £60 million a year.

About Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, one of Britain’s leading scientists known as the ‘Father of Genetic Fingerprinting’, is Emeritus Professor at the University of Leicester where he made his landmark discovery in 1984. Professor Jeffreys joined the Department of Genetics in 1977 as a Lecturer, and has remained at Leicester where he has held the positions of Professor of Genetics and Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor.  While studying variation in human DNA in 1984 he discovered variation in minisatellites, and developed DNA fingerprinting. Shortly afterwards he demonstrated that the technology had a host of applications ranging from criminal investigations, paternity and immigration disputes through to conservation biology.  In more recent years, Professor Jeffreys has made key contributions to our understanding of fundamental processes of change in the human genome.



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