DNA used to identify czar's bones

February 07, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Forensic scientist Pavel Ivanov -- working with scientist Peter Gill and his team at Britain's central Home Office forensic laboratories in Aldermaston -- has achieved nearly miraculous results using new and still controversial technology to identify the bones of Czar Nicholas II and his family.

The DNA matching process, pioneered in criminal cases by Mr. Gill in 1985, compares the patterns of deoxyribonucleic acid that makes up a person's unique genetic blueprint. But Mr. Ivanov had to work with bones, which carry much less DNA than living tissue or vital fluids.

The bones believed to be those of the Romanovs, executed by Bolsheviks in 1918, were in terrible shape when discovered in the late 1970s. The skulls were so badly battered that another key test, comparing portraits of the Romanovs to the skulls by computer, was inconclusive.

"Even if we managed to extract enough DNA, there was a question of its quality," Mr. Ivanov recalled. And there was the issue of control samples: Once extracted, what could the DNA be compared to? There were no other sources for the imperial family's genetic material.

But there was a method of comparing the samples with what is known as mitochondrial DNA, which should match among relatives descended from the same maternal line. And among the relatives suitable for comparing is Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II -- his grandmother and Czarina Alexandra's grandmother were sisters.

Prince Philip's DNA matched with those of four of the skeletons -- those believed to be the czarina's and three of her daughters'.

The scientists hope to have the results of further testing of Romanov relatives this spring.

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