Friday, July 25, 2008

Victor McKusick, Abraham Lincoln and the Museum

A couple of decades ago Dr. Victor McKusick suggested that Abraham Lincoln may have had Marfan's syndrome and that the museum's specimens should be tested. I'm going by memory here, but I think a blue-ribbon committee was convened, debated, and a decision was made not to test the material because the science wasn't advanced enough yet, and it didn't really matter if Lincoln had Marfan's. Read the three NY Times articles linked above rather than trust my memory. McKusik died recently and the Washington Post ran an obituary and an appreciation while the NY Times ran an obituary.

At the moment, the museum is not contemplating DNA tests on Lincoln's remains, nor any other individuals.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the science not being up to speed back then was part of the decision not to do any testing, but FAQ No. 53 on the Museum's web site notes that the ultimate reason for not doing testing was that the specimen itself would be damaged.

The Q & A:

Many people wonder whether Abraham Lincoln had Marfan's Syndrome. Does the museum permit testing of its artifacts, such as Lincoln's hair and skull fragments?

And the answer given is:

The DNA test to determine whether or not the chromosomal marker for Marfan's Syndrome can be detected would require the full destruction of the Lincoln biological materials. Multiple panels have determined that the greater public good is served by not destroying this non-renewable national historic treasure.

Steven Solomon
Former Museum PAO

Anonymous said...

True, however, the museum did use specimens from the Civil War in a destructive test for DNA which was published in a scientific journal. The technique in the article was used for many years by the AFIP DNA laboratory to identify war dead from Vietnam, Korea, and WWII.