“Most people have difficulty thinking of themselves as just another animal. They refuse to face the fact that 96% of what can be found in their bodies can also be found inside a pig or a horse or that our DNA is 97.5% identical to that of a gorilla and 98.4% to that of a chimpanzee. The only thing that makes us different from other animals is our ability to think and make forward plans.”
― Allan Pease and Barbara Pease, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps: How We’re Different and What to Do About It

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Image of the week: King Richard III

This is one of the things that I just love about what the study of DNA can tell us about identity. Science can fill in the blanks where fossils, archives and oral history can’t. What’s more, it can make things all the more definite. Long live DNA. And it will certainly outlast all of us!

Wellcome Trust Blog

Richard IIIThis week’s image is of one of the oldest surviving portraits of King Richard III. It’s also the most accurate. How do we know? Because, after almost two years of cloak-and-dagger secrecy, a research team from the University of Leicester have published their work on the identification of the skeleton discovered in a car park in 2012. It’s definitely him, by the way. Based on all the available evidence – DNA, carbon dating, evidence of scoliosis – the team are able to identify him with 99.999 – 99.99999% certainty.

Back in February, we announced that we would be supporting the team, via a Research Resources grant, as they embarked on sequencing Richard’s entire genome. Part of this has involved isolating the markers used to identify hair and eye colour, finding that he almost certainly had blue eyes, and would probably have been blond haired as a child. Though his…

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“Science has discovered that, like any work of literature, the human genome is a text in need of commentary, for what Eliot said of poetry is also true of DNA: ‘all meanings depend on the key of interpretation.’ What makes us human, and what makes each of us his or her own human, is not simply the genes that we have buried into our base pairs, but how our cells, in dialogue with our environment, feed back to our DNA, changing the way we read ourselves. Life is a dialectic.”
― Jonah Lehrer, Proust Was a Neuroscientist