It is one of the most improbable family connections. One is an actor famed as a languid Lothario. The other was one of the world's most brutal but brilliant military leaders. Nevertheless geneticists say their analysis shows Tom Conti is indeed directly related to Napoleon Bonaparte.

This remarkable claim has been made by ScotlandsDNA, a recently launched project that aims to uncover the genetic roots of the Scots and which plans to spread its services to include the English, Welsh and Irish.

From a participant's saliva, project scientists obtain a DNA marker that can pinpoint their ancestry. Conti and Bonaparte both share a marker known as M34.

"Some friends said they weren't surprised to find out Napoleon and I were related, but it came as quite a shock to me," said the actor. "In fact, I didn't believe it at first. I burst out laughing when they told me. I have got used to it now and am really rather pleased."


ScotlandsDNA, soon to be renamed BritainsDNA, was set up last year by historian Alistair Moffat, the rector of St Andrews University, and Dr Jim Wilson, a geneticist based at Edinburgh University. Their aim was to create a genetic map of Scotland. Now Moffat and Wilson are expanding this project to cover the whole of the British Isles. Two sources of information are used - markers on mitochondrial DNA, which is passed exclusively through the female line, from mother to daughter, and markers on the Y-chromosome, which is passed from father to son.

More than 1000 people, each paying £170 ($330), have provided DNA that reveals the Scots' wide ancestry - Vikings, Irish, Berbers - and many other distinctive markers have been uncovered.

According to Moffat, Conti's DNA marker reveals his male lineage is Saracen in origin. His ancestors settled in Italy around the 10th century before one of them, Giovanni Buonaparte, settled in Corsica and founded the family branch that produced Napoleon.