Science and Technology

The da Vinci genetic code

| Updated on July 18, 2021

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Two Italian researchers have traced 14 people alive today who have a direct genetic link to the great Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci, who lived about 650 years ago. From these 14, the genealogical road — spanning 21 generations — goes back to da Vinci’s half-siblings, for he himself, believed to be gay, never married.

Researchers Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato now hope to reconstruct da Vinci’s genome, or genetic profile, using the genomes of his descendants. The idea is to see if there was some genetic basis to da Vinci’s genius.

The famous painter of Monalisa and The Last Supper, who inspired the 2006 film The da Vinci Code, also sculpted and made engineering drawings of flying machines that he thought up. Born outside wedlock to Ser Piero and a peasant woman called Caterina in 1452, he was gifted with synesthesia, a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one sense can affect multiple senses. (For instance, if you had synesthesia, you’d ‘see’ Kishore Kumar when you hear one of his songs.)

Five years ago, other researchers had identified 35 living relatives of da Vinci but they were mostly of the female line, which means they could not give much useful information on the polymath’s Y-chromosome.

In another development, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has discovered what it believes is da Vinci’s contemporary and rival Michelangelo’s fingerprint on a wax sculpture. (There was no love lost between da Vinci and Michelangelo.) The museum staff had moved the work to a cold basement during the pandemic, but when they examined it after five months, they found a tiny fingerprint on the figure’s buttocks. So, if you thought fingerprints were all about crime and police work, think again.

Published on July 18, 2021

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