Oetzi, the world’s oldest frozen corpse, has had his DNA sequenced


Oetzi, a 5,300-year-old frozen corpse of a Tyrolean Iceman, has had his DNA sequenced by an international team of scientists, who published their findings in Nature Communications on Tuesday. 

The DNA has allowed scientists to discover new information about Oetzi, including clues about the location of his closest living relatives.

The ancient man's corpse was discovered in the Alps near the Italian–Austrian border in 1991 by hikers. It is suspected that the Iceman, who was alive during the Copper Age, was murdered, according to PBS. Researchers believe a flint arrowhead was shot into his left shoulder, which most likely killed him.

"We've been studying the Iceman for 20 years," Albert Zink, from the Eurac Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, told BBC News. "We know so many things about him – where he lived, how he died – but very little was known about the genetic information he was carrying around."

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Zink and his team found that the Iceman probably had brown eyes and type O blood, Scientific American reported. Oetzi was also most likely lactose intolerant as an adult, and had several genetic risk factors for coronary heart disease.

The research also found traces of DNA from the pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in humans, which would make Oetzi's the oldest such case on record, according to Scientific American. 

The scientists had previously examined genetic material within the Iceman's mitochondria, the energy-producing centers in cells, LiveScience reported. The mitochondrial DNA is inherited through the maternal lineage, and did not reveal any of Oetzi's living relatives.

The latest information, however, decoded the DNA found within the nuclei of the Iceman's cells, which is inherited from both father and mother. This new discovery allowed scientists to trace Oetzi's rare but still-present lineage. 

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"This means his ancestors came from Europe, originally from the East, and spread over most or part of Europe," Zink told LiveScience. "This original population was somehow replaced by other populations, but they remained quite stable in remote areas like Sardinia and Corsica."

Sardinians' genes are distinctive and easily recognizable, partially because Sardinia is an isolated island, and islands experience reduced gene flow as a result of being surrounded by water, according to Discover Magazine

However, the scientists still have more work to do to get to the bottom of Oetzi's genetic history. 

“Further ancient DNA analyses from these regions will be necessary to fully understand the genetic structure of ancient Alpine communities and migration patterns between the insular and mainland Mediterranean,” the researchers conclude in their study. 

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