Historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato are big fans of Leonardo da Vinci. But their fascination with the man is not just limited to his ideas and his artwork alone. They want to know what made him a genius, why he was left-handed, and whether his predisposition to a hereditary sickness made him special.
Their journey to know the man better has now revealed that da Vinci has 14 descendants who are living today, as announced by a press release.
The historian duo's work goes through 21 generations of da Vinci's family, and using historical records, they have managed to trace back to Leonardo's great-great-great-grandfather Michele da Vinci, who was born in 1331. It is likely that Michele was the first to use the da Vinci surname.
But how does one confirm the historical records of man, who himself is long gone? The answer lies in one of two sex chromosomes in humans and other mammals: the Y chromosome.
Just like a surname, the Y chromosome is also passed from father to son. The fact that the Y chromosome seldom changes across generations makes it perfect for such studies. This allows researchers to confirm ancestries of individuals, even if there are some broken links in between.
In the case of da Vinci, after analyzing 21 generations and five family branches, the historians have found descendants who still live in the Tuscan area where da Vinci was born and are currently involved in different professions. It did help that da Vinci's father, Piero, fathered 22 children, other than Leonardo.
Because there is no evidence that Leonardo married or had children, historians are hoping that the Y chromosome in the extended family may disclose more about the artist and help them figure out what made him such a genius. In recent years, DNA-based analysis has altered what we can learn about a person and their history.
The DNA of the descendants will be tested in the near future and information collected will be used to further the Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project, led by Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University in New York, supported by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.