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Louis XVI’s DNA recovered from monarch’s supposed blood

A team led by Carles Lalueza-Fox, a researcher at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, studied a dried blood sample stored in a gourd that supposedly was kept as a souvenir from the execution of the French King Louis XVI by guillotine in 1793.

STAFF | OCTOBER 25TH, 2010


On January 21, 1793, the King of France Louis XVI was executed by guillotine for conspiring against the freedom of the nation. According to the chronicles preserved from that time, many people climbed the scaffold to dip their handkerchiefs in the blood of the monarch to have a souvenir of the execution. A team led by
Carles Lalueza-Fox, a researcher at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) in Barcelona, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Bologna, analyzed the blood from one of these scarves and found genetic patterns that may correspond to those of the long dead French monarch.

As reported by the UPF, even though no remains of the scarf are in existence, the scientists were able to analyze a brown substance that for years was stored inside a gourd decorated with very precise technical engraving method. "The most interesting thing," says Lalueza-Fox, referring to the exterior of the gourd, “is possibly the written text with pictures that tells the story of one of the witnesses to the execution. With this text we know that Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood and put it inside the gourd."

Having determined that the brown substance was human blood, scientists recovered mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome from it. They then found that it was difficult to find the two genetic lineages of each in the current databases. "The mitochondrial lineage corresponds to the unknown lineage N1b, present in only two Europeans out of a total of nearly 21,000 studied, while the Y chromosome corresponds to the G2a lineage that was not found among the 21,800 Europeans analyzed," said Lalueza-Fox.

The blue-eye mutation

According to several portraits of the time, Louis XVI had blue eyes. Researchers have determined that the individual of the blood in the gourd had the mutation that causes this eye color located on the HERC2 gene.

Researchers say that the only way to prove that indeed it is Louis XVI is to compare the Y chromosome with the genetic profile of the mummified heart tissue attributed to his son, Louis XVII, which is preserved in the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris, because, as the scientist noted: "We tried to guarantee the authenticity of the sample by looking for possible living relatives of the king, but we did not locate any."

The study is published in
Forensic Science International: Genetics.

Reference article:
Carles Lalueza-Fox, Elena Gigli, Carla Bini, Francesc Calafell, Donata Luiselli, Susi Pelotti, Davide Pettener (2010). Genetic analysis of the presumptive blood from Louis XVI, king of France. Forensic Science International: Genetics,  DOI: 10.1016/j.fsigen.2010.09.007.

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