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Using the Elephant Man's skeleton to unlock medical mysteries

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Elephant Man
Elephant Man

During Joseph Merrick's short life, he was a subject of both mockery and scientific befuddlement. Known as the "Elephant Man," Merrick's abnormal physical development led to work as a traveling curiosity and pokes and prods by puzzled doctors. Even after his death in 1890, Merrick's unusual legacy lived on: his life became the topic of several books, an award-winning play, and a David Lynch movie.

And now, more than a century after Merrick's death, scientists think that analyzing his remains might finally pin down what genetic ailment the Elephant Man actually suffered from. As BBC News reports, a team at King's College London plans to carefully extract DNA from Merrick's skeleton in order to sequence his genome. From there, they hope to figure out which genetic mutations triggered Merrick's extreme development — a finding that might, in turn, help researchers unlock additional medical mysteries.