Identification of Victims from Historical Mass Disasters
and Applications of Laser Capture Microdissection to Ancient DNA Analyses
Ryan L. Parr
Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
One of the persistent mysteries associated with the loss of the RMS Titanic
in 1912 is the identity of a small, male child recovered in the Northwest Atlantic near the site
of the sinking, nearly one week following the disaster. The men of the victim recovery ship, Mackay-Bennett, estimated 2 years as the age of the child. Even though the child
was not identified before burial in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the remains have been strongly associated with
Gosta Leonard Pcilsson, a 2-year-old Swedish child. According to the official White Star line passenger
list there are 5 additional male children who also match the general description of the body. Direct
maternal relatives of all 6 children were identified and comparisons between sequencing signatures of
HV1, of the mitochondrial genome, and that of the remains, resulted in the non-exclusion of a
13-month-old Finnish child.
In 1948, Northwest Flight 4422, a charter flight originating in Shanghai, China flew into Mt. Sanford
1 hour out of Anchorage, Alaska. The DC-4 was on its way to New York's LaGuardia Airport with a weary
cargo of 24 American Merchant Marines. The men had been at sea for 3 months loading and unloading cargos
of oil from ports in South American, England, Bahrain and finally Shanghai. The crash site was
inaccessible until 1997, and in 1999 an arm was found melting out of the glacial terrain. A report on
the ongoing effort, using mitochondrial DNA to establish the identity of the victim will be given.
A discussion of the methodologies used to recover DNA and data from the remains associated with both
disasters will be covered.
Finally, the promise of recovering nucleic acids from remains with laser capture microdissection is
reviewed with an emphasis on mummified human tissue.