March 1, 2012 by staff
Oetzi Health, Scientists have recreated the face of “Oetzi,” who is believed to have been slightly over 5-foot 2-inches tall and around 46 years old. (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology) The 5,300-year-old ice mummy dubbed Oetzi, discovered in the Eastern Alps about 20 years ago, appears to have had the oldest known case of Lyme disease, new geneticanlysis has revealed.
As part of work on the Iceman’s genome — his complete genetic blueprint — scientists found genetic material from the bacterium responsible for the disease, which is spread by ticks and causes a rash and flulike symptoms and can lead to joint, heart and nervous system problems.
The newanlysis also indicates theIceman was lactose intolerant, predisposed to cardiovascular disease, and most likely had brown eyes and blood type O.
To sequence the Iceman’s genome, researchers took a sample from his hip bone. In it, they looked for not only human DNA — the chemical code that makes up genes — but also for that of other organisms. While they found evidence of other microbes, the Lyme disease bacterium, called Borrelia burgdorferi, was the only one known to cause disease, said Albert Zink, a study researcher and head of the European Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) in Italy.
“Our data point to the earliest documented case of a B. burgdorferi infection in mankind. To our knowledge, no other case report about borreliosis [Lyme disease] is available for ancient or historic specimens,” Zink and colleagues write in an article published on Tuesday (Feb. 28) in the journal Nature Communications.
Discovering evidence of Borrelia is an “intriguing investigative lead,” said Dr. Steven Schutzer, an immunologist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School.
Schutzer is a lead investigator on a National Institutes of Health-funded project that has sequenced at least 17 strains of the modern bacterium, and has published 13 of those so far.
The discovery of the traces of Borrelia within the sample taken from the Iceman still needs to be confirmed, he said. “Now we know what we want to look for, now that we know there is a possibility of that being here, we can do a very targeted approach that looks for Borrelia,” Schutzer said.
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