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Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Thomas Jefferson Off the Hook?
6 January 1999 7:00 pm
Contrary to headlines that splashed across the country in November, there is no conclusive proof that former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson fathered an illegitimate child by his slave Sally Hemings. At least five of his family members are candidates for paternity of Sally's child, researchers admit in a letter in tomorrow's issue of Nature.
The widely discussed judgment was based on DNA sequences in the Y chromosome of the Jefferson family that matched DNA from the Hemings family. To the researchers--retired pathologist Eugene Foster of Charlottesville, Virginia, and a group of prominent European molecular biologists--this seemed to confirm age-old rumors about Jefferson's sex life. Not so, protested Herbert Barger of Fort Washington, Maryland, a genealogist and husband of a Jefferson descendant. Barger believes that Thomas's younger brother Randolph--who reputedly liked to party in the slave quarters--was Eston Hemings's father. Other candidates, he suggests, are Randolph's sons, all of whom had the same Y chromosome as their father and their famous uncle. The team now concedes that Barger could be right, although they still argue that the "simplest explanation" is that Thomas was the father.
Asked why they didn't mention Randolph or his sons in their previous article, also published in Nature, Foster says it was because they weren't suspects. For years, members of the Jefferson family had claimed that sons of Thomas Jefferson's sister--Peter or Samuel Carr--had most likely fathered Hemings's children. The DNA study aimed to settle that question, Foster says. He agrees that the Nature headlines on the initial report and on an accompanying comment by geneticist Eric Lander of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and historian Joseph Ellis of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley were "misleading," but both articles were hurried into print, he says, to beat the popular media, which had learned about their results and were poised to publish.