King Richard III has been making a lot of news lately for a man who lived over 500 years ago. With the shocking discovery – considering his pedigree lineage and former “employment” – buried under a non-descript parking lot in England back in 2011, King Richard continues to make news. The latest announcement comes from genetic scientists in the UK who are planning to take his recovered DNA and sequence it in an effort to more fully understand the monarch.

Scientific experts are optimistic that the sequencing will tell them many things about King Richard that are currently not documented such as his hair and eye color, stature, etc. They say there is even the potential to unearth information in his genetic code that could potentially identify any health conditions he may have been afflicted with including possibly the one that killed him had he not succumbed in the historic 1485 Battle of Bosworth.

The leading geneticist who was credited with identifying the recovered bones as belonging to the late monarch, Turi King, states hopefully that the DNA sequencing “…should give us an insight into his genetic make-up, his predisposition to disease…to see whether or not Richard was predisposed towards scoliosis, for example.” Analysis of osseous remains can be indeed challenging although success rate is often high. The chances of succesful DNA extraction will depend on the state of preservation of the bones, which in turn depends on the environmental factors these remains were exposed to.

The research was done in collaboration with the University of Leicester. Click here to read more about how the University and the Leicester city council worked on this ambitious project.

Rediscovering the rediscovered King

King Richard III is probably one of the least most understood of the historic British Monarchy. If the simple fact that it took 500 years to find his final resting place is any indication, there is a lot of mystery surrounding this ruler who fell from the throne so prematurely. There exist to portraits of Richard from while he was actually living. There are some which are dated to about 40-50 years after he lived, however these too draw scrutiny as to their ability to show the king given they were commissioned decades after his death.

King Richard will be the first figure of historical significance to have his genome sequenced- surely another claim to fame for the intriguing former ruler. Richard was famously depicted by Shakespeare’s play as the hunchbacked antagonist who is accused of killing his nephew princes in the tower. Historians doubt the true villainous nature of Richard based on actual historical records, however there are many indications he suffered from debilitating illnesses – illnesses which may be revealed with the genetic testing currently underway.

Mapping the genome of Richard

Genetic sequencing is a relatively recent advance in the science of biogenetics. Only a few decades back it took 13 years to completely map a genome of a human being – and at a mere cost of about $3 billion dollars. With today’s technology the price has plummeted and the process can be completed in weeks – not years. As the skeleton which was recovered properly in February 2013 is near complete, scientists will not have any shortage of available sources of DNA to make all the analysis’ they want.

The cost estimate to complete the analysis of Richard has been estimated at 100,000 British Pounds and has received partial funding from the Wellcome Trust, Alec Jeffreys – the scientist who first developed fingerprinting for identification, and the Leverhulme Trust.

Michael Ibsen, Richard’s closest living kin, has also agreed to have his genome sequenced. TheDNA of Ibsen who is more than 8 generations removed from the king should have mitochondrial (mtDNA) similarities to him. mtDNA is contained in the cellular material of every living organism and has an extremely low susceptibility to mutation as it’s passed on from mother to child.

Further reading: Celebrity DNA testing

King Richard the III might be one of the most infamous kings to have had his bones tested, but there are countless other historical figures and celebrities who have been involved in some paternity brawl. Probably one of the most publicised cases was that of 12 year old father Alfie Pattern – a case which shocked many and which was solved with a paternity DNA test. Read the article.