Forensic genetic investigation of human skeletal remains recovered from the La Belle shipwreck

Angie Ambers, Magdalena M. Bus, Jonathan L. King, Bradford Jones, Jeffrey Durst, James E. Bruseth, Harrell Gill-King, Bruce Budowle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In 1995, the historical shipwreck of La Belle was discovered off the coast of Texas. One partial human skeleton was recovered from alongside cargo in the rear portion of the ship; a second (complete) skeleton was found atop coiled anchor rope in the bow. In late 2015, comprehensive forensic genetic testing began on multiple samplings from each set of remains. For the partial skeleton recovered from the ship's rear cargo area, results were obtained for 26/27 Y-STRs using traditional CE; with MPS technology, results were obtained for 18/24 Y-STRs, 56/56 ancestry-informative SNPs (aiSNPs), 22/22 phenotype-informative SNPs (piSNPs), 22/27 autosomal STRs, 4/7 X-STRs, and 94/94 identity-informative SNPs (iiSNPs). For the complete skeleton of the second individual, results were obtained for 7/17 Y-STRs using traditional CE; with MPS technology, results were obtained for 5/24 Y-STRs, 49/56 aiSNPs, 18/22 piSNPs, 15/27 autosomal STRs, 1/7 X-STRs, and 66/94 iiSNPs. Biogeographic ancestry for each set of skeletal remains was predicted using the ancestry feature and metapopulation tool of the Y-STR Haplotype Reference Database (YHRD), Haplogroup Predictor, and the Forensic Research/Reference on Genetics knowledge base (FROG-kb). Phenotype prediction was performed using piSNP data and the HIrisplex eye color and hair color DNA phenotyping webtool. mtDNA whole genome sequencing also was performed successfully. This study highlights the sensitivity of current forensic laboratory methods in recovering DNA from historical and archaeological human remains. Using advanced sequencing technology provided by MiSeq™ FGx (Verogen) and Ion S5™ (Thermo Fisher Scientific) instrumentation, degraded skeletal remains can be characterized using a panel of diverse and highly informative markers, producing data which can be useful in both forensic and genealogical investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110050
JournalForensic Science International
StatePublished - Jan 2020



  • FROG-kb
  • ForenSeq™
  • La Belle
  • MPS
  • Precision ID mtDNA whole genome panel
  • Robert Cavalier
  • Sieur de La Salle
  • X-STR
  • Y-STR
  • Yfiler™ Plus
  • ancestry SNP
  • biogeographic ancestry
  • lineage
  • massively parallel sequencing
  • mtDNA
  • phenotype SNP
  • skeletal remains

Cite this