Rethinking Healthcare

Iceman's DNA gives clues to health risks

Iceman's DNA gives clues to health risks

Posting in Technology

The world's oldest frozen mummy reveals some of his secrets after scientists complete sequencing of nearly his entire genome.

An international team of researchers has published nearly the entire DNA sequence of 5,300 year old Ötzi the Tyrolean Iceman, Nature News reports.

Hikers found Ötzi in 1991 in the Italian Alps. His well-preserved body told researchers that Ötzi had hardened arteries and tooth cavities, fancied tattoos, ate ibex for his last meal, and died with a arrow in his back. Scientists in 2008 gathered that Ötzi likely came from a vanished population - his sequenced mitochondrial DNA shows mutations not carried in present-day people.

The new sequencing, completed by researchers at Italy's Institute for Mummies and the Iceman (yes, that's a real place), uncovers 96% of Ötzi's genome. It comes from DNA in the nuclei of cells harvested from his pelvic bone.

Here are some of the new stats the scientists gathered about Ötzi :

  • He had brown eyes and type O blood.
  • Lactose didn't sit well with him.
  • His closest present-day relatives are in Corsica and Sardinia

They also uncovered some health problems.  Ötzi's genes predisposed him to coronary heart disease, which might explain his hardened arteries. Also, portions of the genome for Lyme borreliosis mixed in his DNA suggest he had the earliest known case of Lyme disease.

Head researcher Albert Zink told Nature blogger Ewen Callaway that despite his satisfaction with the findings, he's disappointed the study didn't come out in time for the Iceman Murder Mystery television special.

Images: Nature News and Nature Communications

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure