[Back to Issue 12 ToC] [Back to Journal Contents] [Back to Biochemistry (Moscow) Home page]

Genetic Evidence of Authenticity of a Hair Shaft Relic from the Portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei, Son of the Last Russian Emperor

Tatiana Andreeva1,2,a, Andrey Manakhov3,b, Svetlana Kunizheva1,c, and Evgeny Rogaev1,2,3,4,d*

1Centre for Genetics and Genetic Technologies, Department of Genetics, Faculty of Biology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119192 Moscow, Russia

2Department of Genomics and Human Genetics, Laboratory of Evolutionary Genomics, Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, 119333 Moscow, Russia

3Center for Genetics and Life Science, Sirius University of Science and Technology, 354340 Sochi, Russia

4Department of Psychiatry, UMass Chan Medical School, 222 Maple Ave, Reed-Rose-Gordon Building, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, USA

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received November 11, 2021; Revised November 11, 2021; Accepted November 12, 2021
To determine the value of an art piece, authenticity of the artwork must be verified. We demonstrate here a genetic approach to determine origin of a historic relic in the museum piece. We tested two hair shafts of unknown origin framed into a watercolor portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei Romanov, son of the last Russian Tzar Nicholas II, which is a unique item kept in the State Historical Museum. Genetic identification of the hair shafts was performed by analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers using both massive parallel genomic sequencing and multiplex targeted PCR, followed by Sanger sequencing. In previous works, we reconstructed the complete mtDNA sequence inherited to Alexei Romanov through the Queen Victoria lineage [Rogaev et al. (2009) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 106, 5258-5263]. DNA extracts were obtained from the two thin hair shafts and used for comparative genetic analysis. Despite the very low quantity and quality of the DNA templates retrieved from the historical single hair shaft specimen, informative mtDNA sequences were determined. The mtDNA haplotype in the hair shafts corresponds to the mtDNA haplotype of Tsarevich Alexei, his sisters, and his mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. This haplotype remains unique in the currently available mtDNA databases. Our results reveal that the hair relic from the portrait is associated with the family of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II. The study is an example of first application of the genetic methodology for verification of the value of museum artwork items.
KEY WORDS: ancient DNA, museum item, hair shaft DNA, mtDNA, human identification, NGS

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297921120063