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Richard III DNA Suggests Infidelity

Dec 02, 2014 03:13 PM EST

After 529 years of searching, scientists can finally say they've found the body of King Richard III; however, his DNA offered up a surprise, suggesting that infidelity occurred somewhere in his family tree.

The bones of the English king were first discovered two years ago in a Leicester car park, the former site of Greyfriars Abbey where Richard was buried after his death in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, according to BBC News. But it took scientists until now to identify the remains and solve possibly the oldest forensic case to date.

"Even with our highly conservative analysis, the evidence is overwhelming that these are indeed the remains of King Richard III," lead researcher Dr. Turi King, from the University of Leicester, said in a statement.

DNA analysis shows that Richard III was actually a blue-eyed blonde, and that genetic information passed down on the maternal side matches that of living relatives, while that on the male side does not. This could cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the English throne or, perhaps even Richard's.

"We may have solved one historical puzzle, but in so doing, we opened up a whole new one," Professor Kevin Schürer, who was the genealogy specialist on the paper, told BBC.

The researchers collected DNA from living relatives of Richard III and analyzed the entire mitochondrial genome, inherited through the maternal line, and Y-chromosomal markers passed down through the paternal line. Investigation of Richard's remains found that most living male heirs of the 5th Duke of Beaufort carried a Y chromosome type different from the rare lineage of the king's.

Researchers do note, however, that the discrepancy isn't all that startling since the chances of false-paternity are fairly high after so many generations. But it does "pose interesting speculative questions over succession as a result," Schürer added in the statement.

Schürer suspects that the breakage occurred at a point in the family tree that doesn't affect the Royal line of succession, and furthermore over the course of history inheritance wasn't so cut and dry. Descendants of Richard III can rest assured that researchers won't be knocking on their doors anytime to demand DNA samples.

But learning more about this king doesn't end here, notes Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society at the Wellcome Trust.

"Adding this information to a wealth of existing material about Richard III further highlights the ways in which studying human remains can inform our understanding of the past, and we look forward to learning more about Richard for many years to come," he said.

The results are described in more detail in the journal Nature Communications.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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