Leonardo da Vinci didn't have any children of his own, but a comprehensive investigation of his family history has turned up 14 living male relatives, reports ZME Science. The study in the Human Evolution journal has increased the previous estimate of living relatives from two and might shed light on some of the genetic quirks—including exceptional eyesight—that helped make da Vinci the artist he was. Italian art historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato trace the male da Vinci line back from patriarch Michele, born in 1331. Leonardo, born in 1452, was in the sixth of 21 generations tracked to the present time, they say. He had 22 half brothers, and the new family history covers five family branches.
"Questions potentially probed once Leonardo's DNA is confirmed include reasons behind his genius, information on his parents' geographical origins, his physical prowess, premature aging, left-handedness, diet, health and any hereditary diseases, and his extraordinary vision, [synesthesia], and other sensory perceptions," per a news release at EurekAlert. Studying the DNA of living relatives could help with all that. Researchers tracked the family line through the Y chromosome, which is passed on largely unchanged to male descendants. Sky News notes that da Vinci's remains are believed to be interred in a French chapel, and this work—done in conjunction with the J. Craig Venter Institute of California—could help answer the question of whether those remains actually belong to da Vinci. (An eye disorder may explain da Vinci's unusual depth perception.)