Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci was pioneering pretty much every field of study going, from poetry to mathematics, engineering, anatomy, science, astronomy, and geology. He wasn’t bad at painting either, apparently. Seemingly inspired by his feverishly creative spirit, scientists have hatched a mad plan to sequence his genome and attempt to piece together his incredible life.
The Leonardo Project is bringing together a wealth of scientists, historians, archeologists and art experts from universities around the world. They have recently outlined a few of their plans in a special edition of the Human Evolution journal.
The team is going to look for traces of DNA and fingerprints on his books, notepads, paintings, and equipment. They then hope to pair this with information from the hair, bones, fingerprints, and skin cells of his known past and present relatives. As you can imagine, this is no small feat. Much of the work will include tracking the history and final resting place of Leonardo’s family from the 14th century right up to now.
"The Vitruvian Man" by Da Vinci, neatly showing his fascination with both science and art. Reeed/Shutterstock
Rhonda Roby, a geneticist on the project, spoke to Gizmodo about some of the challenges in finding the physical remnants of Da Vinci, saying: “More and more techniques are being developed to recover DNA from people touching things.”
“I also think there’s a possibility of biological material inside paintings,” she added. “The challenge would be actually getting that material out without damaging the artwork.”
The legacy of Da VInci’s work in science, engineering, and culture is nothing short of superhuman. But despite this, very little is known about the man himself.
One of the things that will be revealed from this genome sequencing is the appearance of the Renaissance polymath. By fitting together bits of the genetic jigsaw, they’ll be able to get a fair idea of his eye color, skin tone, hair color, weight, height, and face shape. They also reckon they’ll be able to get a fair idea of his diet, his health, and his personality.
There’re no plans to clone the great polymath just yet, though.