Sitting Bull’s hair DNA confirms living ancestry of great-grandson

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Band Will Dunham

WASHINGTON, October 27 (Reuters)A sample of Sitting Bull’s hair helped scientists confirm that a man from South Dakota is the great-grandson of the famous 19th-century Native American chief, using a new method to analyze family lines with fragments of DNA of long-dead people.

Researchers said Wednesday that DNA extracted from hair, which had been stored at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, confirmed the family relationship between Sitting Bull, who died in 1890, and Ernie LaPointe, 73, of Lead, Dakota. South.

“I think this DNA research is another way to identify my direct relationship with my great-grandfather,” said LaPointe, who has three sisters. “People have questioned our relationship with our ancestor for as long as I can remember. These people are just a pain where you sit – and will likely doubt these findings, too.”

The study marked the first time that the DNA of a long-deceased person has been used to demonstrate a family relationship between a living individual and a historical figure – and offers the possibility of doing so with others whose DNA may be extracted from remains such as hair, teeth or bones.

The new method was developed by scientists led by Eske Willerslev, director of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Center at the University of Cambridge.

It took researchers 14 years to find a way to extract usable DNA from hair, which degraded after being stored at room temperature before being handed over by the Smithsonian to LaPointe and her sisters in 2007.

Willerslev said he read in a magazine that the Smithsonian turned the lock of hair from Sitting Bull’s scalp and contacted LaPointe.

“LaPointe asked me to extract the DNA from it and compare it to his DNA to establish a relationship,” said Willerslev, senior author of the research published in Science Advances. “I had very little hair and there was very little DNA in it. It took us a long time to develop a method which, based on limited ancient DNA, can be compared to that of people living over several generations. . “

The new technique focused on so-called autosomal DNA in genetic fragments extracted from hair. Traditional analysis involves specific DNA in the Y chromosome passed down through the male lineage or specific DNA in mitochondria – the powerhouses of a cell – passed from mothers to children. Autosomal DNA is not gender specific.

“There were methods, but they required substantial amounts of DNA or only allowed to go to the level of the grandchildren,” Willerslev said. “With our new method, it’s possible to build deeper family relationships using tiny amounts of DNA.”

Sitting Bull, whose Lakota name was Tatanka-Iyotanka, helped rally the Sioux tribes of the Great Plains against white settlers taking tribal lands and US military forces trying to expel Native Americans from their territory. He led Native American warriors who wiped out federal troops led by George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 in what is now the US state of Montana.

Two official burial sites exist for Sitting Bull, one in Fort Yates, North Dakota and the other in Mobridge, South Dakota. LaPointe said he does not believe the Fort Yates site contains the remains of his great-grandfather.

“I think the DNA results may identify the remains buried at the Mobridge site in South Dakota as my ancestor,” LaPointe said, raising the possibility of moving Mobridge’s remains to another location in the future. .

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(Report by Will Dunham, edited by Rosalba O’Brien)

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