February 10, 2013
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bonesA team of scientists in the UK recently confirmed that skeletal remains discovered beneath a parking lot in Leicester belong to King Richard III. Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist from the University of Leicester, asserts this is "beyond reasonable doubt," based on genetic and historical forensic evidence.

However, some skepticism regarding the DNA evidence is "entirely appropriate," says Dr. Timothy Bestor, Professor of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center. The DNA tests involve comparing 300 nucleotide-long regions of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) between the excavated bone samples and living descendents of King Richard III's sister. Because the mitochondrial genome is transmitted exclusively from mother to offspring, with no paternal input, matrilineal patterns of descent can normally be distinguished based on comparisons of mtDNA control regions. (This post from the Human Genome Project explains how genetic markers—specific sections in the genetic code that vary between people—can be used in identification.) In this case, cautions Dr. Bestor, there are four particularly complicating factors.

The first is the quality of the DNA samples. After 500 years or more in a wet environment like England's, "the microbes are going to degrade the DNA. It’s just food to them," says Dr. Bestor. The risk of sample contamination is also high.

Secondly, the English aristocracy reproduced within a closed gene pool in order to preserve lineages. This inbreeding results in consanguinity. Because of this, Dr. Bestor stresses, "you may have the same mitochondrial haplotype, but that does not guarantee a lineal descent from a given individual."

Another confounding factor is that, in the 17-25 generations separating King Richard III’s sister from her extant relatives, there is a fair chance that children of deceased parents may have been adopted by their parents’ siblings somewhere along the way. After all, medieval life expectancies were short. Such adoptions may have been kept private and excluded from historical genealogical records.

Dr. Bestor also points out that the genetic sequences and statistical data are yet to be released. However, he adds more optimistically, "the historical evidence is quite compelling."

Forensic examination of the bones showed they belonged to a slender, adult male with scoliosis in his 20s or 30s. King Richard III was killed at the age of 32 and described as "hunchbacked." Furthermore, carbon dating indicates the bones date to 1455-1540, consistent with King Richard III's death in 1485. Traces of battle injuries were also found on the bones, "one likely inflicted from behind by an assailant bearing a halberd, a medieval weapon consisting of an axe blade topped with a spike," according to this National Geographic article.

The announcement that King Richard III—famously vilified in the eponymous Shakespeare play—had been found and identified has prompted a flurry of debate about historical assumptions, as well as a new territorial battle over the sovereign's final resting place.

Cities in Crisis: Ecological Transformations
Science and Sustainability
Globalization and the City
citiesThis is the first of a series of six free lectures on Cities in Crisis: Ecological Transformations at Cooper Union. In the first talk, Dr. Steward Pickett, former President of the Ecological Society of America and a plant ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, will discuss urbanization in the context of globalization. For a primer on the topic, check out this Academy eBriefing.
 
WHEN
Mon Feb 11
6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
WHERE
Cooper Union, The Great Hall
Foundation Building
7 East 7th Street, (btwn 3rd and 4th Avenues)
PRICE
Free
 
Science and Snacks
Frontiers Experimental Physics
zajcProfessor of Physics and Chair of the Columbia Physics Department William Zajc discusses the lab work involved in studying the Big Bang. For a teaser, check out this video, highlighting work at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Scientists smashed gold ions together at nearly the speed of light to produce a quark-gluon plasma of 4 trillion degrees Celsius!
 
WHEN
Mon Feb 11
6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
WHERE
PicNic Market & Cafe
2665 Broadway (btwn 101st and 102nd Streets)
PRICE
$10, includes one drink
 
Academy Event
Sexy Science and the City!
lustThe first Science and the Seven Deadly Sins event of 2013 is dedicated to animal romance. Find out what that might actually mean in animal and neuroscientific terms, as well as the answers to many other questions at Love and Lust in the Animal Kingdom! For a taste of what's to come, check out this podcast with panelist and dinosaur expert Brian Switek.
 
WHEN
Tues Feb 12
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
WHERE
New York Academy of Sciences
7 World Trade Center
250 Greenwich St, 40th Fl
PRICE
$25 nonmembers, $20 students, $15 members
 
Science and Socializing
The Secret Science of the Microbiome
martinThis latest offering from the Secret Science Club features Dr. Martin Blaser, director of NYU's Human Microbiome Project. Dr. Blaser will discuss his pioneering research on the role of "good germs" in immunity and metabolism. The talk will be followed up by a Q&A session, as well as music, dancing, and microbe-themed cocktails.
 
WHEN
Tues Feb 12
7:30 PM doors
8:00 PM - 9:30 PM
WHERE
The Bell House
149 7th St. (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)
Gowanus, Brooklyn
PRICE
Free, 21+ ID required
 
Family Fun
For Future Astronauts!
intrepidSaturday, Feb 16th kicks off the Intrepid Museum's Kid's Week 2013. Special events include performances, hands-on activities, special tours, and prize giveaways. Here's a tentative schedule of activities. The first day features the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. AND there are space ships!
 
WHEN
Sat Feb 16
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
WHERE
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex
Pier 86, W 46th St and 12th Ave
PRICE
Kid's Week activities free w general admission ($22 adults, $10 children 3-6, $17 children 7-17)
 
Lust and Love in the Animal Kingdom
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Science & the City Events
Lust and Love in the Animal Kingdom
Feb 12, 2013
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Sloth: Is Your City Making You Fat?
Mar 13, 2013
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Envy: The Cutthroat Side of Science
Apr 30, 2013
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Gluttony: Deconstructing Dinner
May 23, 2013
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
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