The mtDNA profile of members of remains discovered in the Holy Loch are known and available for comparison to individuals who are curious whether they may have descended from the same lineage. The story below outlines how the mtDNA profiles of remains discovered in the Holy Loch were discovered.

Holy Loch DNA

The Holy Loch is a sea inlet in Argyll and Bute in western Scotland. The name may have originated from the 6th century when an Irish Catholic saint, Saint Munn, landed there and founded a monastic community. By the 15th century, the area was a significant local center of Christianity and the powerful Highland Scottish Clan Campbell made it their spiritual home. The Kilmun Parish Church and Argyll Mausoleum are now on the site of the ancient Saint Munn’s church. The Holy Loch has been the site of the famous Robertson boat-building yard, a submarine base for the Royal Navy during World War II and for the United States Navy from 1961 to 1992.

Discovery of human bones

In February 2000, four human bones were discovered during an extensive clearing of the debris from the seabed of the Holy Loch. A week later, a fifth bone was also recovered. Initial examinations determined that the bones belonged to an adult male aged between 15 and 23 years and with a height of 168-174 cm. Although the fifth bone was located on a separate day in a slightly different area, it was assumed that all five bones belonged to the same individual. Records indicated that 13 men had gone missing in the Holy Loch from 1965 to 1989. The initial age and height estimates ruled out ten of these 13 men.

Using genetics to identify the remains

The next steps in the investigation were to use genetic analyses to determine whether all five bones are from the same individual and to see if they matched to one of the references available for the men reported missing in the Holy Loch. Autosomal short tandem repeat (STR) analysis can be a useful technique for the genetic analysis of degraded samples, as only a small region of the DNA needs to be amplified and analyzed. However, a good STR profile was only obtained from the fifth bone that was recovered separately, and had possibly been in a different microenvironment of the Holy Loch for an extended period. This STR profile indicated that this bone belonged to the son of one of the available references, but the researchers were still unsure if all five bones belonged to the same individual.

Next the researchers targeted the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The analysis of mtDNA is often a more robust technique to analyze degraded remains, as mtDNA is a lot more abundant that nuclear DNA. One hypervariable region (HVR1) was successfully sequenced from each bone. This HVR1 sequence was identical for all five bones and matched to the maternal reference tentatively identified in the autosomal STR analysis.

The identical HVR1 mtDNA sequence between all five bones indicates that the five bones most likely belong to the same individual. This sequence also matched to just one maternal reference sample, meaning it is very likely that the remains belong to a US serviceman (the son of the matching reference). This serviceman went missing in the late 1960s, while the Holy Loch was used as a submarine base for the United States Navy.

DNA Database Comparisons

The DNA tests conducted in this study have defined the mtDNA profile of young US serviceman lost in the Holy Loch, Scotland. If you have taken the mtDNA HVR1 (Standard Maternal Ancestry) test, you can determine if you may have descended from the same maternal lineage as this US serviceman.