Wellcome Trust Funding Study To Sequence Genome Of King Richard III
February 12, 2014

Wellcome Trust Funding Study To Sequence Genome Of King Richard III

[ Watch the video: The Whole Genome Sequence of King Richard III ]

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Richard III, a short-lived fifteenth-century king who was discovered buried in an untidy grave underneath a car park in Leicester, England in 2012, is to have his genome sequenced by University of Leicester researchers.

The study, funded by Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust and Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys, is being led by Dr Turi King of the University’s Department of Genetics. The genome sequencing project will not only decode the DNA of Richard III, but also that of a direct living descendant of the last-Plantagenet King of England.

The aim of the project is to shed light on the ancestry and health of the last king of England who died in battle and also to provide a complete archive of information that can be accessed and used by historians, scientists and the general public.

It was just over a year ago that the remains of the skeleton found under the Leicester car park were revealed to be that of Richard III, who became dubbed as the “King in the car park.” Since geneticists proved through initial DNA analysis that the remains were in fact those of Richard III, they are scheduled to be reinterred. So now, Dr King and colleagues are hurrying to get the genome sequence underway before interment occurs. By fully sequencing the genome, it will give researchers a free resource to analyze and interrogate the genetic information easily.

It isn’t common that ancient individuals get their genomes mapped. Richard III’s remains will be one of only a handful that have been sequenced. The short list includes Otzi the Iceman, some Neanderthal remains, a Denisovan, a Greenland Inuit and a hunter-gatherer from Spain. However, Richard III will be the first ancient with a known identity to have a sequenced genome.

The genome project will allow researchers to gain insight into a number of features of the late-King, such as hair and eye color, as well as the susceptibility of diseases. The mapping will also shed light on Richard III’s genetic ancestry and relationship to modern human populations.

“It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England,” said Dr King in a statement. “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,” she added.

Michael Ibsen, a direct living descendant of Richard III, will also have his genome sequenced. An initial analysis of Ibsen's mitochondrial DNA proved that he shares the same lineage with Richard III. A more detailed analysis will bring greater understanding of that lineage. The new work will also help researchers in the hunt for other segments of DNA that these distant relatives share.

“We are delighted that, through our Research Resources grants programme, we are able to support this innovative and fascinating work,” Dr Dan O’Connor, Head of Medical Humanities at the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

“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,” Dr O’Connor added.

“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,” said Prof Gordon Marshall, Director of the Leverhulme Trust.