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12 August 2010
Gene map to give insight into 5,200-year-old Oetzi

Scientist recently finished sequencing the genome of Oetzi, a Neolithic mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991. Oetzi's genome was sequenced using a sample taken previously from his hip bone and the analysis took about three months. With that map of his genes in hand, researchers are moving onto to a whole new array of questions, according to Albert Zink, head of the European Institute for Mummies and Oetzi at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) in Italy.
     "Some are very simple, like so 'What was really the eye color of Oetzi? What was really his hair color?'" Zink said. There are more complicated questions, too. Zink and others are curious about any genetic evidence of disease in Oetzi and the composition of his immune system. And there's the big one, he said: "Are there any living relatives of Oetzi still around?"
     Scientists have already taken a stab at this question when they analyzed DNA from Oetzi's mitochondria and compared the results with groups of living individuals. They did not find any matches, suggesting his maternal lineage is either very rare or died out. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mothers to their children and so would only provide relatives on Oetzi's mom's side of the family.) "We have to take into account this is only the maternal lineage," he said, referring to the mitochondrial study. "And not all people are tested."
     Until now, scientists hadn't mapped the DNA within the nuclei of his cells. For humans, nuclear DNA contains 6 billion base pairs, while mitochondrial DNA only includes 15,000 to 17,000, according to Zink. Collaboration with EURAC's Institute for Genetic Medicine is expected to widen the field, because it has collected genetic information on a large number of people living in the region, the most likely prospects for Oetzi's descendants. That in addition to the fact that scientists can compare his entire nuclear genome has Zink hopeful of getting to the bottom of some of Oetzi's mysteries.

Source: LiveScience (5 August 2010)

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