An exciting new DNA discovery has emerged which can predict with a great deal of accuracy the hair and eye color of deceased individuals. DNA testing is used in areas as diverse as crime and forensics, paternity testing and archeology. Now, thanks to this new system, archeologists, historians and the general public can get a much more accurate picture of what our ancestors and famous historical figures looked like. This new system is known as HIrisPlex, and Dutch and Polish researchers have published a study in a journal called “Investigative Genetics” about some of its results.
A Woman’s Tooth
In Krakow, Poland, researchers found the tooth of a woman in a monastery crypt that otherwise held the remains of abbots. They were able to determine that she was buried there sometime between the 1100s and 1300s but not why. However, using the HIris Plex system, they learned that her eyes were blue and her hair was dark blonde.
General Wladyslaw Sikorski was a World War II Polish general who never appeared in color photographs. The single existing likeness of him in color is a painting that was done only after his death. Based on accounts, the general’s eyes were blue and his hair was light blond.
Sikorski was buried at a cemetery in Newark following his 1943 death in a plane crash in Gibraltar. At the time, he was the Prime Minister of the exiled Polish government.
Fifty years later, in 1993, his remains were taken to Warsaw’s Royal Castle. In 2008, researchers had the opportunity to do DNA tests after he was exhumed from the crypt at the castle. The tests gave a 99 percent probability that his eyes were blue and nearly a 70 percent probability that he had light blond hair just as the accounts reported.
The research team concluded that the system can accurately predict hair and eye color from remains of any age. This means that it will be valuable to archeologists working on ancient sites as well as to experts seeking confirmation in more recent cases.
The team’s leader was Dr. Wojciech Branicki, and he pointed out that the system can now fill in many details about historical figures where archival evidence is lacking regarding what they looked like. In some cases, there is controversy about the hair and eye color of some people, and HIrisPlex can now resolve those controversies.
But HIrisPlex is not only useful for identifying the famous. As with the tooth found among the abbots, the team also worked with DNA taken from the remains of a prison World War II. These remains were unidentified, but HIrisPlex predicted the probable physical features of the long-dead prison inmates.
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Derek is currently blogging for a paternity testing company. When he is not blogging or working, he enjoys spending time with his family.