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  1. ITV Report

Sir David Attenborough's DNA used in genetics study

David Attenborough Photo: PA

DNA from renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough is being used in a study to see if people with unusual surnames are likely to be related.

The University of Leicester study is investigating if there is a link between the Y chromosome and surnames, both of which are passed down the male line.

The project also involved examining the Y chromosomes of over 1,600 apparently unrelated men with 40 different surnames.

The study is being carried out by the University of Leicester Credit: PA

The study found that for men with uncommon surnames, such as Attenborough, there was a clear link between a Y chromosome type and their surname even though they did not know themselves to be related.

The research suggests as many as 90 per cent of men alive in Britain today with the Attenborough surname (and the spelling variant, Attenborrow) shared a common ancestor with Sir David within the past 700 years.

However, when examining the results from a random sample of men all bearing a common surname, such as Smith, they were no more likely to share a common ancestor through their surname, than men with different surnames chosen at random from the general population.

"Attenboroughs essentially form one big family of distant relatives. The Y chromosome type was the same even across spelling variants, which confirms that the spellings of names were formalised only relatively recently."

– Dr Turi King of the University's Department of Genetics