Bones of King Richard III to be ground up for science

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 9:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 3:50am

A year after they revealed a twisted skeleton found under a car park as the mortal remains of King Richard III, scientists in Britain plan to grind samples of his ancient bones and use them to map his genome.

The project, which may alter perceptions of the last king of England to die in battle more than 500 years ago, aims to provide a genetic archive for historians, researchers and the public.

In one of the most significant archaeological finds of recent British history, the skeleton - with a cleaved skull and curved spine - was dug up from under a car park in Leicester and unveiled last year as that of the king slain as he fought to keep his crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

His death ended the Plantagenet dynasty and ushered in the Tudors under Henry VII.

After taking a small sample of bone from the skeleton, Professor Turi King of the University of Leicester genetics department will grind it to a powder, extract DNA and seek to piece together as much as possible of Richard's genetic code.

Richard III's place in history is contested. William Shakespeare cast him as a hunchbacked tyrant who murdered two princes in the Tower of London and died in battle crying out: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

Richard's supporters argue his reputation was tarnished deliberately to cement Tudor rule.

King said that as the remains, including any samples taken by her team, were to be reburied, it was timely to extract the DNA and sequence his genome now.

But she warned that since the remains were so old, his DNA was fragmented and might not produce a complete genetic map.

"There may be gaps, but we'll just have to go with what we can get. That's science, unfortunately," she said.

King said the aim was to gain insight into Richard's genetic make-up, including his susceptibility to certain diseases and his hair and eye colour.

The gene mapping is also expected to shed light on his genetic ancestry and relationship to modern human populations.