How did DNA help “discover” King Richard III?

DNA and RNA Read more from
Chapter DNA, RNA, Chromosomes, and Genes

The question “Where was the body of King Richard III buried?” has long been a curiosity in England. Historians knew that Richard rode out from Leicester to meet his death on the Bosworth battlefield in August of 1485, ending the Plantagenet reign—but no one knew where his body ended up. Legends told of tossing the body in the river or bringing the body back to town. Still others say the body was claimed by Franciscans and buried hastily near the high altar of their church— and it was at that church where the alleged remains of King Richard were found.

In 2013, several tests were carried out—including radio carbon dating of bone samples and several forensic pathologists determining the cause of death based on the bones. But one clue was the key: comparing the DNA from the leg bone of Canadian Michael Ibsen, believed to be a direct descendant of Richard’s sister Anne. When all the tests came in, the researchers concluded that the bones found at the church site were truly those of King Richard. Alas, King Richard’s lineage apparently stops there, as both Ibsen and his sister (mitochondrial DNA is passed on through the women) have no children.


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