Teeth may hold key to identity of child Titanic victim

July 19, 2002

Scientists have collected DNA from two British sisters and a Swedish family in a bid to identity an unknown child victim of the Titanic tragedy.

The experts will try to match it with genetic material taken from teeth of the infant victim.

Ryan Parr, visiting professor of anthropology at Lakehead University, Canada, and head of research at Genesis Genomics, and Alan Ruffman, president of Geomarine Associates, hope to name the boy within two months. Their results will be presented next week at the Ancient DNA conference in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Rescue teams recovered 3 bodies after the White Star liner sank in 1912. Most were brought ashore at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The citizens were particularly moved by an unidentified boy's corpse. They paid for a gravestone, and great crowds attended his funeral.

On May 18 2001, forensic anthropologists from Lakehead and Lauretian universities partially excavated the boy's badly degraded remains.

Morphological analysis of the teeth suggest the child was about six months old, younger than originally thought.

This seemed to rule out earlier candidates and pointed instead to one of two boys known to have died on the Titanic :

* Alfred Peacock, eight months old, from Cornwall, who drowned with his mother and sister as they sought a new life in the US

* Gilbert Danbom, five months old, who died with his parents en route to California from Sweden.

The team has traced two sisters living in Wales who were related to Peacock. It has traced Danbom's line to two relatives in Sweden.

The scientists are extracting mitochondrial DNA from blood samples supplied by the families. This genetic material is passed unaltered down the female line and can be used to determine whether two individuals are related.

A team at Brigham Young University in Utah will attempt to extract mitochondrial DNA from one of the boy's teeth.

This should provide a definitive genetic comparison to follow preliminary analysis of material from a bone fragment at Lakehead's Paleo-DNA Laboratory.

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