Researchers decode ancient genes from Alps iceman
Genome of 5,200-year-old mummy holds answers to many questions, including if there are any living relatives.
Sat, Aug 07, 2010 at 01:17 PM
Frozen Fritz or Oetzi the Iceman is a Neolithic mummy discovered in the Alps in 1991. Recently, researchers successfully sequenced his genome. Msnbc.com reports that this may allow scientists to find answers to many long-sought questions, such as if the Iceman has any living relatives.
Oetzi is Europe's oldest natural human mummy. He was thought to be 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds at the time of his death. He lived during the Chalcolithic period or Copper Age, and was thought to have been a high-altitude shepherd because of the wear on his leg bones. High levels of copper and arsenic were found in his hair, leading experts to believe he was also involved in copper smelting.
Oetzi had an intestinal parasite at the time of this death and also 57 carbon tattoos possibly related to acupuncture. Experts have been able to determine that he had reduced fertility, which may have affected his social standing. It is believed he may have died in a raid or skirmish due to wounds throughout his body.
Albert Zink is head of the European Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) in Italy. He hopes that the recent sequences of the iceman’s genome will provide some long-sought answers about the ancient man. Zink and others hope to find out if the iceman had any specific diseases and what his immune system looked like. As he told Msnbc.com, "Some (questions) are very simple, like so 'What was really the eye color of the Iceman? What was really his hair color?' "
Researchers want to know if the iceman has any living descendants, but have not been able to come up with any answers. They analyzed DNA from Iceman's mitochondria and compared it with groups of living people. They did not find any matches, which means that his maternal lineage may have died out. But Zink remains hopeful they may find a match. As he told Msnbc.com, "We have to take into account this is only the maternal lineage. And not all people are tested."
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