Resurrecting secrets about the real-life Dracula

BioTechniques News
Tristan Free

Vlad III, the historical figure who inspired the literary vampire Count Dracula did not drink blood, but he may have cried it…

Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler, was a prince and military leader in the 15th century. He was so terrifying that he is believed to have inspired the creation of the fictional vampire, Count Dracula. Now, researchers have analyzed the molecules and proteins found on his letters, which have provided new insights into his life.

The legendary figure’s official title was Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia, and he lived in the southern region of Romania in the mid-1400s. His nickname in diplomatic reports and popular stories from the 15th century was Dracula, and he even signed two of his letters as “Dragulya” or “Drakulya”. While there’s no evidence that Vlad III was a vampire, his ruthlessness and name are said to have inspired the literary vampire Count Dracula.

Despite more than 500 years having passed since Vlad’s reign, some artifacts remain, including some of his letters. The molecules and proteins present on artifacts like these provide scientists and historians with a unique insight into the life and story of historical figures like Vlad. So, a team led by Vincenzo Cunsolo from the University of Catania (Italy) set out to investigate the letters, hoping to learn more about the life and health of Vlad.

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First, the researchers used a special ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) film to extract any proteins or small molecules from the letters without damaging them. The extracts were then analyzed using mass spectrometry. The team focused on the proteins with the most advanced deamidation, a form of protein degradation that occurs with age, as these were likely the oldest and the most likely to have originated from Vlad himself, as opposed to people who have since handled the letters.

The team found a total of 16 proteins of human origin that they suspected of being from Vlad. The data analysis suggested that Vlad could have suffered from inflammatory processes of the respiratory tract and/or of the skin, and potentially even a condition called hemolacria, which causes people to cry tears of blood.

While this study did not provide any evidence to confirm or deny that Vlad was an actual vampire, it helps paint a more detailed picture of one of the most infamous rulers of the 15th century and provides further possible explanation for the terrifying aura that he was able to create about his persona.

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