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BRISBANE, Australia (November 23, 1998 - AFP)---An Australian university student said Monday he had extracted DNA from bones recovered from the wreck of a ship sent to capture mutineers on the Bounty.

The frigate HMS Pandora sank in 1791 with 160 crew on board and 14 mutineers captured in Tahiti after it hit a reef as it headed home, having given up its search for the remaining fugitives from one of the most famous naval mutinies in history.

University of Queensland student Dayman Steptoe reconstructed three skeletons from about 260 bones and bone fragments recovered from the wreck by university archaeologists.

With the help of forensic biologists, Steptoe extracted DNA from the skeletons in what the university claims is the first recovery of genetic material from human bones submerged in the sea for such a long time.

He hopes to identify the men by using historical accounts and genealogical data from Britain and eventually compare the DNA with samples from living descendents of the 35 people known to have died during the Pandora's sinking, including four Bounty mutineers.

Steptoe said the skeletons were more likely to be members of the Pandora's crew than mutineers. But his research would add another intriguing chapter to the story of the mutiny.

The crew of the Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, set Captain William Bligh afloat in March 1790 after taking control of the Royal Navy ship.

The mutiny has given rise to countless books and films, most recently one starring Oscar winners Mel Gibson and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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