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24 December 2010
Scientists study Oetzi bacteria samples

A team of Swedish scientists is currently examining specimens of stomach bacteria from Oetzi the Iceman, who lived about 5,300 years ago, at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute (KI). Oetzi was discovered in September 1991 in the Oetztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch in Italy, very close to the Austria border. His body is usually kept frozen, but he has been thawed recently to allow experts to examine him, among them Swedish infectious disease control professor Lars Engstrand at KI.
     Engstrand hopes that the samples will reveal whether Oetzi had gastric ulcer and resistant bacteria. "We are performing DNA extraction to map the gastric and intestinal microflora from 5,000 years ago and to try out to find if he had any signs of ulcer-causing bacteria. We will probably be finished in a couple of months, that's my gut feeling," Engstrand said. Engstrand and his team received faecal samples, as well as a 1 square centimetre section of Oetzi's stomach, on November 8th and will disclose their findings through scientific journals.
     Engstrand is working with other scientists in Germany and Bordeaux to find any possible resistant genes that Oetzi may have possessed before the antibiotic era. "We are quite convinced that we will find something. They have been found in soil bacteria. It will be interesting to see how these genes looked like then compared with today," explained Engstrand. "This is a scientific study for public health, antibiotic resistance and virulence as these genes may have evolved over the years," he added. "The DNA quality is crucial to our success," concluded Engstrand.
     Oetzi is Europe's oldest natural human mummy. His body and belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, northern Italy. At the time of his death, Oetzi was about 1.65 metres tall, weighed about 50 kilograms and was about 45 years old. When his body was found, it weighed 38 kilograms.

Edited from The Local (22 December 2010)

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