Richard III is to make history by becoming not only the last English king to die in battle, but the first to have his genetic code sequenced.
Scientists want to map the late king’s DNA before his remains and any samples taken from them are reinterred.
They hope the work will reveal information about the dead monarch’s hair and eye colour, shed light on his ancestry and links to people living today, and provide more details about his susceptibility to disease.
Experts have learned that besides being a hunchback, the king was badly infected with roundworm, a once-common parasite in the UK.
A battle-scarred skeleton with a twisted spine unearthed by archaeologists from a Leicester car park was identified as that of Richard III last year.
“It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England,” said Dr Turi King of the University of Leicester, who is leading the gene sequencing project.
“At the same time, we are in the midst of a new age of genetic research, with the ability to sequence entire genomes from ancient individuals and with them, those of pathogens that may have caused infectious disease.”
Only a small number of individuals from history have had their genetic codes sequenced, and none with Richard III’s noble pedigree.
They include Otzi the “iceman”, whose mummified 3000-year-old remains were found in the Italian Alps; various Neanderthals; a Denisovan – an early human from Siberia; a Greenlandic Inuit; and a Spanish hunter gatherer.
Results from the analysis will be made freely available to historians, scientists and interested members of the public.
Scientists made the roundworm discovery after finding large numbers of the parasite’s eggs in soil taken from Richard III’s pelvic region.
The find suggests the king’s intestines were riddled with roundworm during his life.