How Science Has Recently Affected the Royal Family

MSc Medical Parasitology student Brittany is blogging about her experiences in London, and why it’s such a great city to study science:

I’m not ashamed to admit that when it comes to my reading and studying, I tend to stay pretty tunnel vision on science articles and books. I’m also not afraid to admit that, even though I went to a liberal arts school with a well rounded core, I consider myself relatively under-educated when it comes to world history, and even more so when it comes specifically to British government and history. So when I got to take a trip to the Palace of Westminster recently, it was a whole new and amazing learning experience for me. There was so much new information to take in that I though to myself,
“How on earth am I going to be able to blog about this on a science blog?”

Needless to say, I felt compelled to come home and continue to do some research and educate myself on British government and the royal family a bit more before I could write something that even made sense. And in my research, I found quite a fascinating news story that was right up my alley….

Richard III

BBC News screenshot


It’s almost as if Dr. Turi King knew I was struggling!
Who says procrastination gets you no where?!
(No really, don’t procrastinate it almost never works out like that…)

As you can imagine, I completely geeked out upon finding that DNA analysis was used to potentially change what we know about the royal family’s lineage (especially after hearing about the entire lineage on our tour).

To sum up what was found:

  • In a study headed by Dr. Turi King of Leicester University, remains were found under a parking lot, which was formerly the site of Greyfriars Abbey , where Richard III was killed in battle and buried in 1485.
  • Two years ago, it was confirmed by overwhelming evidence when it was excavated that this was indeed the body of Richard III. At this time, DNA was extracted from these remains.
  • A DNA analysis was performed comparing the DNA from the body to DNA from all known living relatives of his lineage.

Now small intermission for a science fun fact, mitochondria in your cells have their own separate DNA, independent of the DNA that resides in the nucleus. Now these mitochondria can only be inherited from your mother (sorry about that dad!). So…

When The DNA was compared to one of the living relatives, there was a perfect match of mitochondrial DNA, meaning that the maternal lineage has remained the same. But when they compared “Y-chromosome haplotypes from male-line relatives”, DNA that can only be passed through the paternal lineage, there was no match between the remains and said relatives.

Basically this means, there is a whole span of generations during which it is believed that infidelity was committed in the royal family. SCIENCE!

Even with this whole new light shining on the situation, I still had an amazing experience getting to tour the House of Commons and the House of Lords, even though they might need to change a couple portraits around!

For further reading, these are the sources I have used to help write this post. They’re actutally quite interesting to read through if you’ve got the time:

BBC News, Science and Environment
National Geographic News
Nature Communications Journal

Palace of Westminster

Palace of Westminster


Follow Brittany’s Science in London blog at

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