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KING’S BLOOD!

IT SOUNDS like a great Tudor English expletive: “King’s Blood!” But, in fact, it’s a bit of recent research reported in Science magazine, 24 May 2013, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The royalty in question is none other than King Louis XVI, who, with his wife Marie Antoinette, lost his life to Madame Guillotine during the French Revolution, in 1793.

As the Science item notes, according to legend, a bystander soaked up the king’s blood in a handkerchief and stuffed the cloth into an engraved gourd.

gourd

The gourd in question. Image from Science, 24 May 2013.

This legend of the gourd has now been verified.

Researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, analyzed DNA on the cloth with definitive—and in-depth—results. After factoring out the DNA associated with the gourd or related bacteria, Lalueza-Fox identified that the human blood came from a blue-eyed European male.

King Louis XVI

King Louis XVI, 1754-1789, blue-eyed European male, among other qualities.

So far, so good.

Then the Y chromosome proved an excellent match (at 250:1 odds) with one obtained from a direct ancestor of King Louis XVI, namely Henry IV, who ruled France between 1589 and 1610.

Hercules

King Henry IV of France, 1533-1610. portraying Hercules slaying the Lernaean Hydra. (Kings like to have fun too.) Painting by Toussaint Dubreuil, circa 1600.

The matter of Henry IV is a good detective story: Looters ransacked royal graves during the French Revolution, but Henry IV’s mummified head was recovered and identified in 2010. Full disclosure: His mummified head isn’t nearly as cheerful as his portrayal of Hercules.

So, indeed, the gourd contained blood of King Louis XVI. And, in turn, its DNA revealed evidence of the king’s health. It carried the genetic risk factors for diabetes, obesity and bipolar disorder.

cartoonists

King Louis XVI made attempts at monarchial reform, but even political cartoonists of his day recognized shortcomings.

It’s suggested that King Louis XVI’s indecisiveness and generally inept rule may have been traceable to these potential health problems. On the other hand, he may have just been a bum ruler. History teaches us they exist.

On a not unrelated note, the matter of DNA collection has been in the news with regard to a recent Supreme Court ruling. With a 5-4 vote, the court said DNA samples from cheek swabs could be taken from those arrested and not yet convicted of serious offenses.

Matters hinge on Fourth Amendment safeguards: Is DNA cheek swabbing a more “unreasonable search” than finger-printing or photographing a suspect?

My favorite line on all this comes from The Onion, highly regarded hereabouts, albeit with a 5-4 vote, for its on-line satire. Commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision, one of its American Voices said, “Wait, only ‘serious offenses’? Then why did that meter maid run her finger along the inside of my mouth?” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013

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This entry was posted on June 18, 2013 by in Sci-Tech and tagged , .
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