Study: Dried squash holds headless French king’s blood

Updated 31 December 2012
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Study: Dried squash holds headless French king’s blood

PARIS: Two centuries after the French people beheaded Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, scientists believe they have authenticated the remains of one such rag kept as a revolutionary souvenir.
Researchers have been trying for years to verify a claim imprinted on an ornately decorated calabash that it contains a sample of the blood of the French king guillotined in Paris on January 21, 1793.
The dried, hollowed squash is adorned with portraits of revolutionary heroes and the text: “On Jan. 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation.”
He is then believed to have placed the fabric in the gourd, and had it embellished.
The sinister souvenir has been in the private hands of an Italian family for more than a century, said the team of experts from Spain and France which published its findings in the journal Forensic Science International.
Two years ago, analysis of DNA taken from blood traces found inside the ornate vegetable revealed a likely match for someone of Louis’ description, including his blue eyes.
But not having the DNA of any kingly relation, researchers could not prove beyond doubt that the blood belonged to Louis.
Until now.
Using the genetic material, the team managed to draw a link to another gruesome artefact — a mummified head believed to belong to Louis’ 16th century predecessor, Henri IV.
In so doing, they provided evidence for authenticating both sets of remains — uncovering a rare genetic signature shared by two men separated by seven generations.
“This study shows that (the owners of the remains) share a genetic heritage passed on through the paternal line. They have a direct link to one another through their fathers,” French forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier told AFP.
The revolution in which Louis and queen Marie-Antoinette lost their heads in public executions also saw mobs ransack the royal chapel at Saint-Denis, north of Paris — hauling ancient monarchs like Henri from their tombs and mutilating the remains which they tossed into pits.
An individual was recorded to have rescued a severed head from the chaos.
Long thought to belong to Henri, assassinated at the age of 57 by a Catholic fanatic in 1610, the head changed hands several times over the next two centuries, bought and sold at auction or kept in secretive private collections.
Scientists in 2010 said they found proof that the head was indeed Henri’s, citing physical features that matched 16th century portraits of the king, as well as radiocarbon dating, 3D scanning and X-rays.
The 2010 study, however, found no DNA and its findings have been contested by some.
With the new evidence, “it is about 250 times more likely that the (owners of the) head and the blood are paternally related, than unrelated,” co-author Carles Lalueza Fox of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva in Barcelona told AFP by e-mail.
Taken together with all the physical and forensic evidence, historical records and folklore, it would be “extremely surprising” if the remains did not belong to the two assassinated monarchs, he added.
“One can say that there is absolutely no doubt anymore,” about the authenticity of the mummified head, added Charlier.
The DNA data obtained from Louis XVI could now be used to decipher the genetic code of France’s last absolute monarch and his living relatives.


Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

Updated 17 April 2018
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Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

  • Previous research has shown a new blood test has potential to detect eight different kinds of tumors before they spread
  • The research starts in April and will run until September

TOKYO: A Japanese firm is poised to carry out what it hailed as the world’s first experiment to test for cancer using urine samples, which would greatly facilitate screening for the deadly disease.
Engineering and IT conglomerate Hitachi developed the basic technology to detect breast or colon cancer from urine samples two years ago.
It will now begin testing the method using some 250 urine samples, to see if samples at room temperature are suitable for analysis, Hitachi spokesman Chiharu Odaira told AFP.
“If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organization for a blood test,” he said.
It is also intended to be used to detect paediatric cancers.
“That will be especially beneficial in testing for small children” who are often afraid of needles, added Odaira.
Research published earlier this year demonstrated that a new blood test has shown promise toward detecting eight different kinds of tumors before they spread elsewhere in the body.
Usual diagnostic methods for breast cancer consist of a mammogram followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected.
For colon cancer, screening is generally conducted via a stool test and a colonoscopy for patients at high risk.
The Hitachi technology centers around detecting waste materials inside urine samples that act as a “biomarker” — a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified, the company said in a statement.
The procedure aims to improve the early detection of cancer, saving lives and reducing the medical and social cost to the country, Odaira explained.
The experiment will start this month until through September in cooperation with Nagoya University in central Japan.
“We aim to put the technology in use in the 2020s, although this depends on various things such as getting approval from the authorities,” Odaira said.