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Researchers Hope to Identify Skeleton From 1918

Researchers Hope to Identify Skeleton From 1918

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Researchers hope DNA and genealogical records will enable them to identify the skeletal remains of a 15-year-old old boy who died in about 1918.

The remains, along with a pair of No. 316 Marshall Field's boots and some rags, were found in 1998 in a cave near St. George by three hikers.

Sorenson Genomics hopes to discover the boy's family.

DNA samples from the boy's rib and molar are being tested against the 47,000 records of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Database, as well as the DNA of two Utah families with near-century-old missing persons accounts.

Results of the tests are expected in two to three weeks, and Lars Mouritsen, laboratory manager for Sorenson Genomics, is guardedly optimistic.

"Both the rib and the molar are in good condition, and we are able to use DNA from both," he said. "A lot of what happens with those samples depends on the specimens coming in from possible relatives and those in the database."

The Sorenson DNA database, made up of cheek swab samples, mostly from Utah families, was launched five years ago.

It represents families with roots in 156 nations; the goal is to eventually create a genetic archive capable of filling in not only missing family history links, but providing scientific proof of humankind's familial interrelatedness.

Sorenson scientists will use both mitochondrial (maternal tracing) and Y-chromosome (paternal) testing techniques on the boy's bones, said Tod Schulthess, Sorenson Genomics chief operating officer.

"What people are interested in here is the truth, and DNA gives you the truth," he said.

Testing may not find any matches immediately, "but as our database and others grow, the answer still will come, eventually," he said.

Shannon Novak, a former University of Utah forensic anthropologist now teaching at Idaho State University, examined the skeleton and put the boy's age at between 15.1 and 15.9 years.

She also found rib lesions indicating an active pulmonary infection, perhaps from the influenza pandemic, which reached St. George around October 1918.

She said there was evidence of an overdeveloped right arm, hinting at hard physical labor.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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