What can 200-year-old DNA tell us about a murdered French revolutionary?
Jean-Paul Marat was stabbed to death in his bathtub in 1793. Now, blood preserved from his assassination may reveal the disease that struck him down in life.
What do Emily Dickinson, Karl Marx, and Jesus of Nazareth have in common? They’ve all played a part in a popular parlor game. Retrospective diagnoses—thought experiments in which modern scientists use present-day diagnostic frameworks to suss out potential causes of historical disease and death—are a favorite game of would-be time travelers and a staple of medical conferences. The theories can range from plausible to wacky (Julius Caesar had epilepsy! No, wait—mini-strokes!). But until now, none have relied on DNA from the historical figures they were trying to diagnose.
Thanks to a particularly violent murder, however, researchers think they have solved a medical mystery that vexed a notorious French revolutionary. To do so, they analyzed DNA from the 200-year-old