Iceman May Have No Living Relatives

Rebecca Carroll
for National Geographic News
October 30, 2008

The oldest intact human mummy, the Iceman, comes from a genetic line that has either died off or become extremely rare, according to a new DNA study.

The 5,200-year-old Ötzi was discovered frozen in a glacier along the border between Austria and Italy in 1991.

Since then, scientists have investigated everything from the cause of his death at about age 46 to the material of his clothing and the contents of his last meal.

The latter study involved samples from his intestines that also included his DNA.

New analysis of a mere 0.002 ounces (70 milligrams) of this intestinal material has allowed scientists for the first time to sequence Ötzi's complete mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to their offspring, and although it can accumulate mutations, part of it usually remains unchanged, making it useful for tracing lineage through mothers.

(Learn about DNA.)

Mutations in Ötzi's mitochondrial DNA formed "a unique subcluster within a known European lineage," said lead author Franco Rollo of the University of Camerino in Italy.

However, the Iceman's line became, "if not extinguished, extremely rare" during the last 5,000 years, Rollo said.

The research was published online today in the journal Current Biology.

Finding Descendants

Ötzi possessed the oldest modern human mitochondrial genome produced so far, noted co-author Martin Richards of the University of Leeds in the U.K.

Continued on Next Page >>


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