Five good reasons to sequence Richard III’s genome
There is currently some controversy about Leicester University’s announcement that they won funding to sequence the genome of Richard III - ‘the King in the Carpark’. Some interested parties claim that - now we’ve established Richard’s identity genetically, radio carbon dated him and confirmed he has the diet of a high status nobleman, we should leave him be. I disagree. Here’s five good reasons to sequence Richard:
Once he’s back in the ground, he’s effectively gone for good. He won’t be dug up again. No more tests can be done on him - whatever genetic questions we want to ask therefore have to be asked now.
Richard III wasn’t just dug up to identify him. The whole excavation aimed to understand Medieval Leicester better, and finding Richard was a fluke! Sequencing his genome fits squarely within the aim of understanding the genetic affinities, characteristics and disease affinities of Medieval Leicester.
We have no ancient English (or British) genome yet. We have modern British genomes, and ancient (thousands of years old) European genomes - one from La Brana in Spain, and Otzi the Iceman from Austria. We don’t know where Britain fits into that picture, and a genome even 500 years old will help to fill the gap.
We might answer important historical and political questions by looking at his genome. Just as his skeleton, with its scoliosis, confirmed that Richard III *did* have a spinal problem that may have led to the myths of a hunched back; so his genome may reveal more interesting pieces of information pertinent to Richard’s reign. Did he carry genetic mutations which made it hard for Richard and Anne Neville, his queen, to have healthy children? They only had one child, Edward of Middleham, who died young. This is in addition to other common, chronic diseases of ‘modernity’ - heart disease, Crohn’s disease, MS, cancer - which have genetic factors underlying them. We don’t know how ancient these genetic changes are in England. Richard’s genome could tell us a lot about them.
Finally, sequencing Richard’s genome - because of the methods employed - may also tell us about the infectious diseases he (and other high status men of the period) were susceptible to. We already know from the analysis of the grave soil that he had certain kinds of parasitic worms - was he infected with latent TB or leprosy, as many people of the period (and even today!) would have been? Did even a king suffer from diseases of soldiers which are carried by lice? The DNA of pathogens Richard carried may be preserved with his own genome.
So I hope you see… a few very powerful reasons to sequence Richard III’s genome while people fight over where to bury him.
Saw one of these things for the USA. decided we needed an english version.
I have this nasty suspicious feeling that the view of the West Midlands is one that Birmingham City Council ****ed up over a few years ago - where it’s actually a view of Birmingham Alabama’s skyline, not my beloved Brum.