Turi has done numerous interviews for television (BBC national and local stations, Sky, ITV, CNN, Global), radio (BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC World Service, BBC Radio Leicester) and press about her work and commenting on current news stories.
Turi has featured as an expert on a number of radio and television programmes and documentaries both in the UK and abroad speaking on genetics, direct to consumer testing, genetic genealogy, ancient DNA and forensics. In the last few years, these have included Britain’s Lost Battlefields, Crimewatch, Point of View, BBC Ideas, The Gadget Show as well as documentaries for the Discovery Channel, Global Television and Channel 4. On the radio she has appeared on The Life Scientific, BBC Inside Science and The Last Word and Material World on BBC Radio 4, among others. She is Scientist in Residence at BBC Radio Leicester
Turi appeared in two documentaries as part of the Richard III project: The King in the Car Park and Richard III: the Unseen Story. She advised on and appeared in two of Michael Wood’s history series: The Story of England and Great British Story which also included appearing in live televised events. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/3lwl3Wd3NFL7FZrl9djCsFy/dr-turi-king
She is currently featuring in:
- BBC 2’s DNA Family Secrets with Minnow Films
- Amazing Productions/Smithsonian Channel for a high-profile documentary project
- Crime and Conspiracy, Bigger Bang Productions, Science Channel, U.S.A.
You can listen to her being interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific BBC website – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006m3f
Examples of Turi’s television work
How does analysing someone’s DNA help to reveal their family history?
Transcript: How does analysing someone’s DNA help to reveal their family history?
Turi King is one of the UK’s top geneticists. A professor at the University of Leicester, she first made headlines when she helped crack one of the biggest forensic DNA cases in history.
Bones found under a council car park in Leicester are those of King Richard III.
I want to find out how Turi and her team can use DNA to help people unravel their family secrets.
I think I understand the basics but are you happy to tell us, sort of in layman’s terms, what’s involved when you’re trying to figure out where someone’s from?
So, I suppose the first thing to say is that we humans, we are 99.9% the same as one another, no matter where you are from, in the world, but what our team is able to do is we look at lots of little tiny genetic differences that we have between us.
The other thing about this is that actually there are now so many people on these databases, I mean there’s over 25 million people worldwide who have taken these DNA tests, and so the chances are actually pretty high that one of your relatives could be on one of these databases.
In terms of the people that have come to us and they’re interested in finding out a bit more about their family, their relatives, how do you go about that?
Well, what we’re doing is we’re looking for people who share a high number of centimorgans with the person who’s come to us. Now centimorgans is basically just a fancy term for a unit of genetic measurement, it’s a way that we geneticists look for people who share sections of their DNA. So, such that they might be like a first cousin, a second cousin, a third cousin and once we found one of these people that’s where the detective work actually starts, because we can talk to them and we can go right what do you know about your family tree and we can also go through records, so we can go through like birth certificates, you know, death registers, marriage registers and then as I say it starts to allow you to, kind of, hone in on who your mystery person is. Which hopefully will give the people who come to us their answers, that they’re wanting.
DNA Family Secrets – Bill
Transcript: DNA Family Secrets - Bill
Around a million of us in the UK grow up without any contact with our fathers. 75-year-old Bill has never met his dad.
During World War II 240,000 African American GIs were stationed in the UK, many had relationships with local women, which resulted in the birth of two thousand mixed-race babies. Bill is one of them.
I do remember that my mum had a photo of my dad. So, I had this photo and I used to carry around with me all the time, even when I was little, you know. I had it and I lost it. That’s all I had of him, and I keep having these flashes like that, yeah that’s what he looked like, but I can’t remember him in the flesh, you know, I can’t. I sometimes wish that I’d started earlier, to find out things, when I was a bit more healthier.
Since they last met Turi and our team have been analysing Bill’s genetic code, trying to track down any DNA matches and find his family in America.
I’m really looking forward to see what Turi can tell me.
Yeah, we’ll stay here and are you happy to go through and…
As a Geneticist I can actually tell you it was a joy looking at the DNA that must come from your father’s side and that’s because it actually gave really quite clear and detailed information. Now because it was from your father’s side, I thought well I’ll have a look at his Y chromosome type. So, the Y chromosome, putting it really simply, it has on it the gene for maleness. So, the Y chromosome that you get is from your father, which came from his father, which came from his father, so on back through time.
So, the largest number of people who are carrying this type of Y chromosome in Africa are coming from, sort of, Congo, Cameroon, so West Bantu speaking individuals and for me that’s quite interesting because we know that actually that’s where the slave trade really started, was in this area.
So, you are actually getting matches with people who arrived in the US in the early 1700s, in North Carolina and Virginia, but it’s likely what was happening was they were working on the tobacco and the cotton farms, probably until slavery was abolished in 1865.
You’re then getting matches with people who we know moved into Texas in the middle of the 19th century. So, finding those matches actually helped us to find even more information about your father and his family.
So, we know that your father was actually with somebody before he met your mum, and they had a child. This would be your half-brother; his name is Don.
Yeah, that’s news to me, I thought it might be somebody when he went back, yeah, that’s quite a revelation that, really.
So, Don was born in 1933 and really sadly he passed away about 11 years ago, at the age of 76.
I know your big question about your father was why didn’t he come back for your mum and for you. Now even if he had wanted to, come back, and marry your mum and bring you over to the US with him, it would have been impossible for him to do that. Back in the 1940s, in Texas, it was actually illegal. Interracial marriage was a crime in Texas in the 1940s, you know, people went to jail.
I suppose the other thing to remember is that even if your dad wanted to marry your mum in this country, he would not have been allowed to get married, his commanding officer would have refused it.
Oh right, so it wasn’t really a choice that he could make.
Turi, I really do appreciate what you’ve done.
Richard III: The Unseen Story
Transcript: Richard III: The Unseen Story
Geneticist Turi King had one of the toughest jobs, she had to find fragile DNA in bones that were 500 years old.
Actually, what you could do is just hold it in place.
When you’re working with ancient remains you have to be extremely careful about contamination. One of the biggest issues with ancient DNA is contamination with modern DNA. So, what I was ensuring was that while excavating and while lifting the skeleton Jo was working under extremely clean conditions. When we were looking at the skeleton we were fully garbed up in the suits, we had face masks, we were double gloved.
To ensure an accurate DNA result each step had to be double checked at two separate labs.
The skeletal remains were actually in extremely good condition. Now it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll be able to get ancient DNA out of them, because it completely depends on the soil conditions. And what I was hoping to get were teeth, that’s because they’re the most likely bit to remain, they’re usually very well preserved.
So, what you do is you take the teeth, and you take them into a clean room, you clean them extremely carefully and then you crush them into a powder and then from that you try and extract the DNA from that powder.
Sounds simple, but ancient DNA is broken into thousands of tiny fragments. Piecing them together takes months of painstaking work.
Right, well what I’ve got here is I have got a spit sample from Michael Ibsen and that contains an awful lot of his DNA, it’s got a lot of his cheek cells in there and what I’m going to be doing is I’m going to be taking some of this and I’m going to be extracting his DNA from it, and then I’m going to be sequencing his mitochondrial DNA and comparing it with any mitochondrial DNA we can get from the skeletal remains.
Unlike the skeleton, Michael’s DNA took Turi a matter of days to analyse and sequence because it was in so much better condition.
So, this is essentially part of the sequence of Michael’s mitochondrial DNA, and this is actually from my dad and what you’ll see is that not everybody has got the same DNA sequence. You can see that there’s differences between the two of them. So, my dad here has got a particular sequence and Michael has got a slightly different one. So that’s how you can tell mitochondrial DNA sequences apart from one another. And what I’ll be doing is trying to get the DNA sequence from the same region in the skeletal remains and then comparing the two sequences. And what we’re hoping is that we’ll get a perfect match.
I genuinely don’t know what the DNA result is.
Michael in here.
If you look at the DNA of Michael and you look at the DNA from the skeletal remains, there’s a match.
Looking at the sequences the match was identical. Richard and Michael share one of the rarest types of mitochondrial DNA called Haplotype J1C2C. It’s carried by just 1-2% of the population. This made the match even more reliable.
When I started to see the first sequences come back and seeing that it was a match, I just went really quiet. It was very profound.
Turi also revealed that she had managed to isolate a Y chromosome, proving that the skeleton was male.
What was so exciting about the moment of being told, was that it meant that we could actually say, beyond reasonable doubt, that we’d found Richard III. Whereas without the DNA it might have been something like, the balance of probability is that it’s Richard III.
To reinforce the genealogical research Kevin Schürer and Turi King obtained a DNA sample from another female line relative from Richard III. They also matched.
And I can now tell you, there is a DNA match between the maternal DNA from the descendants of the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains that we found at the Greyfriars dig.
Richard’s skeleton is now undergoing further scientific tests, to tell us more about his life. Turi King is analysing his DNA in even greater detail. Investigating his Y chromosome, to check the male line of descent and searching for evidence of hereditary disease. The skeleton has more secrets to reveal.
BBC Morning Live
Transcript: BBC This Morning Live
Now it’s the test that can help people track down missing relatives, detect diseases and even unlock family secrets.
Yes so no wonder 26 million people have taken a DNA test over the past decade and in her latest documentary DNA Family Secrets journalist Stacey Dooley and one of the UK’s leading geneticists, Professor Turi King, are helping people across the UK discover the mysteries hidden in their genetic code.
I’ve just got one question, is she still alive? No?
Your mum’s still alive.
Oh, flippin’ heck.
She lives in Ireland, she’s in a care home, she’s got dementia, but she’s alive and they’re looking after her.
Well that was Stacey with Margaret there who found out that her mum was still alive. Well Professor Turi King who helped track her mum down joins us now, good morning Turi.
That made me really emotional, that little clip there shows so powerful and personal as we saw there with Margaret, I mean it’s incredible isn’t it how much you can find out from someone’s DNA.
It is, I mean it’s amazing these tests and what you can do with them now, it can really help people solve family mysteries, so for Margaret, I mean I tear up still watching that and its why Stacey’s so good because with her own history, with the fact that she didn’t grow up with her biological father, she kind of really gets this and the fact that people can have these deep sort of family mysteries and you can help people now by saying something about where their ancestry is from, finding close relatives, finding missing relatives, it’s really a powerful tool.
One of the things that we’ve learnt in the last couple of episodes is apparently 1 in 50 people in the UK don’t know who their biological father is and I think that’s one of the reasons this story about Richard really hit home to so many. He was looking for his father, this is a remarkable story because we think that he’s found his brother but it’s not his brother, can you just explain the story just a little bit for those who haven’t seen it.
So this was a really interesting one, so Richard was actually contacted by somebody through Facebook, who said ‘I think I’m actually your biological father’. So the parents who Richard grew up with have already passed away and he did a DNA test and found out that his sister was his half-sister, they didn’t have the same father and then he’s contacted by this man who says ‘I think I’m your biological father and by the way I’ve got a son, which would make this chap Brendon his half-sibling and so what we did was we did the genetic analysis to show whether or not these two were actually half-brothers. And I can’t even begin to tell you how surprised we were to find out that they aren’t.
But, and uh, but I mean they look, it looks, I was watching this thinking, but they must be brothers!
Absolutely! We all were! And I think that’s one of the really important things about this programme particularly is that we show that actually DNA testing can have unexpected outcomes.
And I think that’s actually really, really important in that I know that, you know, some other television series, what they’ll do is they’ll start with sort of 100 people and they’ll narrow down, they’ll show the ones that they really want to show. What we do is choose the people at the beginning and we’ll follow them all the way through their story. And we are really privileged to be a part of that because, you know, DNA testing sometimes doesn’t show what you think it’s going to show, you might get something unexpected and I think that’s,
Yeah, they are really courageous people to let us follow them on this journey.
Yeah, and of course DNA tests can do so much more than just trace family members, cant it, because we’re talking about ovarian cancer awareness month this month and DNA tests can actually help detect that and serious life threatening diseases as well. Can’t they.
Oh, absolutely, and this where I would say don’t go to these direct-to-consumer testing companies. We have one of the best systems in the world in the NHS. If you have anything in your family that you’re concerned about, go to your GP because there are tests that can look at things like are you genetically predisposed towards things like breast cancer, ovarian cancer. So, we have Charlie who finds out in the first episode that she’s not the carrier of a version of a version of a gene for Huntington’s disease. It can be incredibly powerful but a number of people actually, apparently up to about 80% of people don’t actually want to know, so again very brave of these people to allow us to follow them on this journey.
And you mention, you just touched on it there, that there are companies that offer these DNA tests, presumably we have to be cautious who we give our information to.
So in terms of DNA testing it really depends what your question is. So for example, for things like determining ancestry, recent ancestry, or answering a family mystery, these direct to consumer testing companies are actually really, really good. The ones that try and tell you about things like health, or fitness for example, what they’re look at are genes that are associated with a particular thing so for example are you going to be more of a sprinter for example but it’s just a tiny, tiny part of the picture, there will be more than one gene that’s involved, it will be things like, you know, training and what are you eating cos like if you’re sitting on the sofa eating doughnuts all day, you’re not going to be sprinting anywhere.
Although you should be.
It’s absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for joining us Professor Turi King. Thankyou.
And you can watch the amazing discoveries in the final instalment of DNA Family Secrets on BBC 2 tonight at 9pm or catch up with the whole series on BBC iPlayer.
If you haven’t seen it, definitely catch it. It’s brilliant.
Jamestown – The Search for Sir George Yeardley
Transcript: Jamestown - The search for Sir George Yeardley
400 years old and this guy’s looking pretty good, just as well because those bones are needed to provide the DNA that will hopefully confirm what everybody here thinks, that this is Sir George Yeardley.
What I’m interested in doing is getting a bone or tooth sample that I can take away to do DNA analysis. What I want to do is analyse the DNA from the skeleton and see if it matches that of a known relative.
To check him out myself I have to provide my DNA as a control.
All you need to do is breathe on these remains or touch them and you’re putting your DNA all over it, so one of the things I’m really worried about is contamination. So I need you to spit into that, up to that line, it’s actually going to take you longer.
That’s a lot of spit?
It is, it’ll take you quite a long time to actually do and then we’re going to close the lid, that’s got a buffer in it that will keep the DNA nice and happy and I’m going to take it back to the UK to do analysis.
I’m going to do this….
Yeah, take your time.
Once we’re tested and suited up we enter the gravesite to look for teeth.
Well this is amazing, so look over here we’ve got what looks like a tooth here, another one underneath there, so it’s looking good, it’s looking like we’ve got some teeth here that we’ll be able to do DNA analysis with, it’s amazing.
To make sure they were digging in the right place scientists used ground penetrating radar.
This is the first time that we have imaged a human skeleton with ground penetrating radar, it’s a really big deal because it’s not supposed to be possible, but i think this is going to open a lot of doors for new research for non-invasively looking at archaeological remains and potentially not even having to disturb them at all.
But why does anybody care about Sir George Yeardley?
This is where Sir George Yeardley presided over the first general assembly that established the rule of law in America and the principle of representative government, but there is a dark side to this story because Sir George was also one of the first English slaveholders in the colonies.
When George Yeardley first set foot in Jamestown, in the summer of 1610, the colony was on the brink of collapse. Barely 60 settlers had survived the winter and some had resorted to cannibalism. A decade later Sir George was in charge of a settlement that offered rich rewards.
In 1619 they also managed to get hold of the first enslaved Africans who arrived in this colony, which was about the same time as the general assembly and Sir George became one of the largest of those slave owners.
There are a thousand other graves at Jamestown, each with a story to tell and with every discovery emerges a more complete history of the origins of modern America. Jane Obrien, BBC News, Jamestown.
DNA Family Secrets – Margaret
Transcript: DNA Family Secrets - Margaret
Around three-quarters of a million people in the UK are adopted, but before the law changed in 1975, most adoptees never knew the identity of their birth parents.
Margaret was adopted when she was just six months old. She’s wondering if analysing her DNA might reveal the truth about her biological family.
My mum and dad tried for family, but it wasn’t successful, so they went to see the priest and the priest put them in touch with the adoption agency in Southport.
Southport and Liverpool a lot of Irish ladies came over, for the adoption. So, I’ve made up this story that she was an Irish lady, she came over had me and probably went back to Ireland.
Margaret is on her way back to the University of Leicester. Turi and our team have been analysing Margaret’s DNA to find out about her birth mother’s ancestry and attempting to trace her family.
Today she’s joined by husband Paul to get her results.
Margaret how are you feeling?
I woke up feeling very excited this morning, you know, I’ve not known for 67 years, not known and now today I will.
Do you want to head next door and Paul and I will wait for you?
Come on in, take a seat. It’s lovely to see you again how are you doing?
And you, yeah.
Good, okay so what we did was we were taking your DNA and we’re analysing it against people in databases that total about 25 million people. So, we’re looking for first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, this kind of thing.
So, it’s probably going to come as no surprise, but you come back as 93% Irish and you’ve actually got concentrations in particular parts of Ireland. So, let’s have a look, let’s show you. So, you actually have concentrations in places like Leitrim, Cavan, and Louth. So, in this kind of area. So, you’ve got central Ireland here and then you’ve got Ulster in Northern Ireland. So, definitely your parents are Irish.
So, I know that you were particularly interested in finding your birth mum, now, fortunately for us DNA testing is really popular in Ireland. There’s also apparently about 80 million people worldwide who claim Irish ancestry, many of them in areas of parts of the world where DNA testing is also very popular. So, that’s what we’re looking for and we’re trying to home in and see if we can find out who your birth mum is.
We got lucky. So, we found one first cousin, six second cousins, 19 third cousins and we know about this because of how much DNA they share with you, and that led us to your grandparents. So, your grandparents are Margaret and James. So, that led us to concentrate on their daughters and more specifically their youngest daughter Bridget.
So, let’s draw you this family tree. So, this is your family tree, so, you’ve got Margaret and James and they have a daughter Bridget. Bridget has two children and we talked to them. So, her two children they really didn’t think that Bridget had any other children and there was this family story that the eldest sister had had an illegitimate child, who had been given up for adoption. Because we wanted to be really sure which one of these two sisters was your mum. So, we took your DNA, we analysed it against Bridget’s two children and that gave us our answer. So, your birth mum is Bridget.
So, this would be with her husband, you would come off here with your biological father and you come off there, so, you have got younger half siblings.
DNA Family Secrets – The Triplets
Transcript: DNA Family Secrets - The Triplets
Triplets, David, Philip, and Peter were adopted when they were four years old and have never known the identity of their birth father. They’re wondering if analysing their DNA can solve the mystery of their ethnicity?
So, you know a bit about your birth mother?
But nothing really about your father?
You don’t even know what ethnicity your father was?
Why do you need to know?
I think it’s to give you a sense of belonging. Everybody deserves, you know, to know who he created them.
Hello, you two, come on in.
Come and have a seat.
So, when you first came and saw me you basically had one main question, your biological father’s heritage and actually this is where DNA completely comes into its own because you had nothing to go on, you didn’t have any information did you?
So, what we did, the first bit was, we looked at your Y chromosome because you can look at somebody’s Y chromosome and you can say something about their ancestry on their biological father’s side.
So, remind me where did you think your biological father came from?
I thought South American somewhere maybe, Italy maybe so….
We actually got a very clear result.
Your biological father had mixed ancestry.
But very clear locations as to where that came from. So, the first of those is actually in West Africa.
So, around Liberia, let’s show you a map.
So, you can have a look.
We are getting hits around Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and up into Mali. It seems to be centred around Liberia, obviously DNA doesn’t follow political borders and we know that there’s been huge amounts of migration and people trading and so you get a mixture of DNA here.
So, is that a bit of a surprise?
Right, so, the other half of your father’s DNA, again very clear and it’s from Northern Ireland.
Not too far away.
Okay I wasn’t expecting that one.
So, it is in South Down and North Louth.
In this area here, so, where about you guys so live?
We grew up here and we now live, South Down is where we grew up.
So, basically where are you guys grew up?
Strange, I never once expected that.
We were surprised.
The other thing that we were doing was that we were looking in the database and we’re looking for people who share a high number of centimorgans with you. So centimorgans is basically a term that we use to describe how much DNA you’re sharing in common with somebody else and we got a match.
So, I’m going to draw you a family tree.
So, it seems to centre around two brothers, this one is a chap called James, over here this is Samuel. Now we are getting a match with a woman who we think is your first cousin, so James is her father. So, we think that Samuel would be your father, we think that’s the most likely scenario. Now, really sadly from talking to the family we think that Samuel died about a decade ago.
Now, we have talked to the family, but they are really not forthcoming.
I can understand that, yeah.
They actually don’t want to have any more contact, so obviously we’re going to respect their wishes.
Yeah, we understand that.
What are genetic mutations?
Transcript: What are genetic mutations?
We often hear about, sort of, genetic mutations, are you happy to tell me a bit more about that?
Yeah. So, when our DNA is being copied, to go into either sperm or egg, I always kind of say, it’s like a bunch of typists and what they have to do is, is our DNA is kind of like a book and they have to copy this book out.
So, I’ve got a little thing here.
So, if I was to give you that and say can you copy that out for me, can you do it without any mistakes? Now, this is just one page, but if you think about our DNA is actually about 1.6 million of these pages, that you would have to copy out with no mistakes.
So, as you can imagine mistakes happen a lot.
So, for example this might change to a G or a T, but you can have mutations that happen, and they have no effect whatsoever.
Luck of the draw, isn’t it?
Yeah, and you can have other mutations that you might go on to get a really serious disease because of it.