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King Tut's Family Secrets


Kuei-Chiu Chen
Premedical Division
Weill Cornell Medical College–Qatar


This "clicker case" is based on several articles published in 2010 that determined the genealogy of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun based on microsatellite DNA analysis. The case begins with a description of the seven royal mummies found in Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt. Students learn about microsatellite DNA and the mechanism by which microsatellite variation arises. Applying what they learn about how the variation in length in microsatellite DNA forms the basis of individual identification, they examine how polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis, and automated DNA fragment analysis can be used to detect genetic variation. After students determine the members in the four-generation family tree of King Tut based on the inheritance of microsatellite alleles, they then assess the confidence of kinship by applying probability rules to hypothetical profiles involving the father, the mother, and their child using microsatellite data. The case was developed for a freshman biology lab course for majors.


  • Learn about genetic variation in microsatellite DNA as the basis for individual identification.
  • Outline the process of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and explain how PCR can produce DNA fragments that reveal the variation in microsatellite DNA between individuals.
  • Learn the DNA separation technique based on the length of DNA fragments.
  • Learn the definition of obligate allele in the determination of parentage.
  • Determine the obligate allele given the genotype of a mother and child for various microsatellite loci.
  • Apply the rules of probability to determine paternity index for kinship reconstruction.
  • Learn that a stronger power of confidence can be achieved by analyzing a greater number of unlinked markers in a parentage case.


Microsatellite DNA; short tandem repeats: STR: Tutankhamun; genealogy; paternity index; kinship; polymerase chain reaction; PCR; ancient Egypt

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program)


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Clicker, Directed, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Genetics / Heredity  |   Molecular Biology  |   Evolutionary Biology  |   Forensic Science  |  

Date Posted


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