DNA analysis of ancient remains can be coupled with archeological and historical data to resolve unknown kinship scenarios and make historical identifications. Alterauge et al. recently published “Beyond simple kinship and identification: aDNA analyses from a 17th-19th century crypt in Germany,” which describes their study to resolve the relationships of three noble families.1
During this time period, three separate families owned the manor and associated crypt. Although there were rearrangements and movements of the internments, historical records and inventories were kept that allowed the team to make an estimate of the original crypt. Samples from 17 individuals were used in the analysis. These remains were thought to be from the three separate families.
The remains were analyzed on site using a mobile X-ray device to help estimate the gender and age of the individuals and additional analyses were performed to approximate their age at death. For DNA analysis, bones from several locations (teeth, hand and foot bones, and skull fragments) were used. These DNA samples were extracted with Applied Biosystems PrepFiler BTA Forensic DNA Extraction Kit and then analyzed for autosomal STR profiles using both the Applied Biosystems NGM Detect and NGM SElect PCR Amplification Kits. The benefit to using this dual amplification strategy is that each kit contains the same markers in a different size range, which may allow for better total allele recovery in these degraded samples.
The research team knew this could be a complex identification case as noble families are known to intermarry. So they decided to also investigate the male samples using YSTRs (Applied Biosystem Yfiler Plus PCR Amplification Kit and Promega PowerPlex Y23 System) for paternal lineage and 14 of the samples using mitochondrial DNA with the Precision ID mtDNA Whole Genome Panel for maternal lineage analysis. Parentage and kinship analysis was accomplished using familias software from Oslo University Hospital.
The identifications were quite complex when taking all the data into consideration. YSTR analysis of 11 male individuals showed that eight of the remains were contained within three separate family units and three were not related paternally. mtDNA analysis showed six different mitoypes: four were within the expected familial structure, and two were singlets and not related.
The autosomal STR results were much more challenging due to the endogamy, potential missing generations, and the fact that STR analysis is best for first-degree relationship testing. You can read all the fascinating details here.
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1. Alterauge, A., S. Losch, A. Sulzer, M. Gysi, and C. Haas. (2021). Beyond simple kinship and identification: aDNA analyses from a 17th-19th century crypt in Germany. FSI Genetics, 53(102498). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsigen.2021.102498
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