Δευτέρα, 5 Μαρτίου 2012

Ötzi the ice mummy's secrets found in DNA

by Andy Coghlan New Scientist



No dairy products for Ötzi the ice mummy (Image:Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images)

Ötzi the ice mummy may have met his death in the Alps some 5300 years ago, but his descendants live on – on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The finding comes from an analysis of Ötzi's DNA, which also reveals he had brown eyes and hair, and was lactose intolerant.

The ice mummy was found in 1991 on an Alpine glacier between Austria and Italy, where he met a violent end in the Neolithic.

Albert Zink of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, and colleagues have now analysed DNA extracted from Ötzi's pelvis to find out more about his life.

Mutations to the iceman's MCM6 gene suggest he could not digest the lactose protein in milk – unlike most modern Europeans. "Maybe at that time most people were still lactose-intolerant," says Zink. "The change to farming livestock [in Europe] only began between about 5000 and 10,000 years ago and so digesting milk became an advantage."

Ötzi was more likely than most to develop heart disease. He carried one genetic mutation that in modern humans raises the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 per cent, and two others that made him prone to a build-up of fat in the linings of his arteries.

Zink says these findings fit with earlier investigations showing that Ötzi's major arteries, including his aorta, were all calcified – a sign they were clogged with fatty deposits.

The team also compared Ötzi's DNA with that of 1300 Europeans, 125 North Africans and 20 people from the Arab peninsula to establish that his closest living kin are found on Sardinia and Corsica. "His contemporaries have disappeared from the European mainland," says Zink.

Although the analysed DNA was partially degraded, Zink says most of it was intact and free from contamination.

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