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Monday, 28 October, 2002, 11:05 GMT
Tracing the Elephant Man's DNA
Joseph Merrick
Joseph Merrick was the subject of "The Elephant Man"
Researchers are trying to trace the descendants of the "Elephant Man" Joseph Merrick to find out what caused his disfigurements.

A team from New Zealand wants to find living relatives of Merrick and take samples of their DNA.

Then, using the latest genetic techniques, they intend to try and diagnose what condition caused his deformities.

Merrick, who was born in Leicester, was exhibited as a circus freak during the late 19th Century.


The name was given to him by a showman in a freak show

Malcolm Hall, researcher

His early life and subsequent rescue by the surgeon Sir Frederick Treves formed the basis of the David Lynch film, The Elephant Man.

Malcolm Hall, part of the team which is making a documentary for the Discovery television channel, said: "He is probably the most deformed person in history.

"The name was given to him by a showman in a freak show.

"When we think of him we think of Elephantiatis which is completely different."

It is not known what Merrick suffered from to cause such disfigurements but there are different theories - the strongest being that he suffered from Proteus Syndrome.

Joseph Merrick
Joseph Merrick died during his sleep

The condition was first identified in 1979 and can include partial gigantism and the development of benign growths in an organ or bones.

Many of the conditions that could have caused the disfigurements can now be determined by DNA testing.

The Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society have been drafted in by the team to try and trace the descendants on Merrick's mother's side.

They are particularly looking for the descendants of two couples.

They were George and Catherine Potterton who lived in Syston in 1901 and John and Christine Potterton who lived in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1901.

Peter Cousins, from the Society, said: "We do have people who like to get their teeth stuck into this sort of project so I'm sure we will come up with something."


Click here to go to Leicester
See also:

20 Jul 02 | Americas
22 Mar 02 | Entertainment
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