Iceman mummy leaves few relatives

By | October 31, 2008

What is better on Halloween than a real mummy and a mystery ?

Genetic material from the Iceman mummy suggests this Neolithic man has no modern-day relatives on his mom’s side of the family. The Neolithic mummy dubbed the Iceman likely has no relatives alive today on his mom’s side of the family, finds a new study of the ancient guy’s genes.

The remains of the Iceman (also called Ötzi, Frozen Fritz and Similaun Man) were discovered accidentally in 1991 by German tourists in the Eastern Alps. Since then, a suite of tests has opened a window into the mummy’s life and death. For instance, the Iceman was about 45 years old when he died; he was probably a hunter-gatherer while alive; he sustained a shoulder injury from an arrow and might have died from head trauma; and his last meal included unleavened bread and meat.

Now, researchers have fast-forwarded genetically from 5,300 years ago when Ötzi died to the present to look at whether his maternal lineage is alive and kicking. It’s probably not. The research team, led by Franco Rollo of the University of Camerino and Luca Ermini working at Camerino and the University of Leeds, extracted DNA from Iceman‘s rectum. They analyzed the genome of the cells’ energy-making structures, called mitochondria.

“You only get mitochondrial DNA from your mother, and she gets it from her mother and so on, so it forms an unbroken link all the way back to the common maternal ancestor of all of us,” said researcher Martin Richards of the University of Leeds.

The results showed that Ötzi fits in genetically with a particular group of living individuals who share a common ancestral DNA sequence. Over time, different individuals and groups can branch off from the main group, genetically speaking. Ötzi’s DNA belonged to a cluster of lineages whose members are still common throughout Europe today.

However, nearly all members of this cluster belong to one of three sub-lineages, or sub-clusters. And Ötzi didn’t. His DNA placed him on a completely distinct, fourth sub-lineage, for which there are no other members alive today — at least none have been found so far. His lineage branched away from his nearest modern relatives about 20,000 years ago.

That means Ötzi’s maternal lineage is either extremely rare or has died out….  – msnbc

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