March 12, 2004

Paternity (and the Founding Fathers)

Posted by Susan

Beth Plocharczyk wonders how scientists plan to use DNA testing to confirm that bones found under Seville Cathedral are those of Christopher Columbus. Chris Lawrence responds that all they need is a descendent and refers to the case of Eston Hemings Jefferson.*

I would like to specify that they need a direct male-line descendent--the usual procedure is to track a haplotype (basically, a specific set) of polymorphic markers on the nonrecombining portion of the Y chromosome. Since these markers are quite stable over time (given their nonrecombining nature), they are useful for this sort of long-range comparison.

*The Nature article (and all of the comments on it) can be found here. As Lawrence notes, it was never definitively proven that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings Jefferson; it looks like David Abbey got the last word by pointing out that Randolph Jefferson (Thomas's brother) and his five sons are also candidates for paternity. Due to the limits of two-century postdated genetics, the field can't be narrowed down any further.

Posted by Susan at March 12, 2004 10:15 PM
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