The University of Leicester has today launched a new Richard III website with further information on the research. There is currently an incomplete page of multimedia resources but it looks as though there will be some very interesting videos added to this page in the days and weeks to come, and we can probably expect to see a video of the full press conference for those who missed it.
Genealogy research was crucial to the investigation. The researchers were able to trace two direct matriline descendants of Anne of York, Richard III's sister, both of whom provided DNA samples for mitochondrial DNA testing. One of the descendants chose to remain anonymous. The second descendant is a Canadian by the name of Michael Ibsen who is now living in London. The genealogical research was greatly facilitated by earlier research by the historian John Ashdown-Hill, and the line that he established has now been independently verified. An outline of the matriline can be seen here. Professor Kevin Schürer, the University of Leicester's Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, discusses the process in this YouTube video:
The full details of the DNA testing have not yet been revealed, so we do not yet have confirmation of the haplogroup and we do not know how much of Richard III's mtDNA could be sequenced. However, Michael Ibsen's mother, the late Joy Ibsen, had her mtDNA tested several years ago and we know that she belongs to haplogroup J, one of the rarer mtDNA haplogroups. Assuming that these earlier results were accurate we can, therefore, infer that Richard III is also haplogroup J. The University of Leicester website includes a stunning electropherogram showing the matching mitochondrial DNA results of Richard III, Michael Ibsen and the anonymous donor. There is already a large haplogroup J project at Family Tree DNA and, once the DNA results are known, it will be interesting to see if anyone in the project matches the Richard III DNA signature. Ideally for genealogical matching purposes we require a sequence of the full mitochondrial genome (all 16,569 base pairs). However, because of the rarity of haplogroup J and all the overwhelming evidence from other sources, a partial match would be sufficient in this particular case. Michael Ibsen and his sister do not have any children and their mtDNA line will, therefore, become extinct upon their death, demonstrating once again how important it is to obtain DNA records while you still have the chance.
The researchers are also hoping to extract some Y-chromosome DNA but this research is still in the early stages, and it will probably be some time before we know if this is possible.
Channel 4 has been following the dig and the subsequent research for the last five months and a programme will be shown tonight at 9.00 pm (UK) called Richard III: King in the Car Park. A preview can be seen here:
I wonder if the exciting discovery of the remains of Richard III will now open the doors for a scientific investigation of the remains of the two skeletons discovered under the stairs in the Tower of London in 1674 which are thought to be the bodies of the Princes in the Tower. The bones were reburied in Westminster Abbey but the Queen and the church authorities have refused previous requests to exhume the bodies.
See this thread on the Genealogy DNA mailing list and a further follow-up thread for a discussion of the mtDNA results.
Update 6 February 2013
The Richard III press conference can now be seen on YouTube.
Update 8th February 2013
James Lick has used his mtDNA haplogroup prediction program to analyse what is known of Richard III's mtDNA sequence. See his blog post "Analyzing the mtDNA of the presumed Richard III skeleton with mthap" and the follow-up blog post in which he suggests that the inferred haplogroup is most likely J1c2c. The J1c2c haplogroup has been confirmed by Dr Turi King in an article published in Science News.
The following links might also be of interest:
- Leicester University's Richard III website
- Richard III: The King in the Car Park (Channel 4 website)
- Press release from the University of Leicester
- Press release from the Richard III Society
- The University of Leicester's Richard III Facebook page
- The Richard III Society
- The University of Leicester's Greyfriars Project website
- Live updates from the This is Leicestershire website
- Facial reconstruction shows how king may have looked
- Richard III: The twisted bones that reveal a king
- BBC 4 Today interview with the historian John Ashdown-Hill
- The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of his DNA: the Book that Inspired the Dig by John Ashdown-Hill
- Wikipedia article on the exhumation of Richard III
- Now is the winter of our uncertainty made glorious summer by this sun of journalistic zeal by Julian Champkin