Thursday, March 08, 2012


The 5,300-year-old ice mummy dubbed Ötzi, discovered in the Eastern Alps about 20 years ago, appears to have had the oldest known case of Lyme disease, new genetic analysis 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 flu-like symptoms and can lead to joint, heart and nervous system problems. The new analysis also indicates the Iceman 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.

Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks in North America and Eurasia. It was first found in the United States in Connecticut in the mid-1970s; a similar disorder had been identified in Europe earlier in the 20th century.

The team also found he had a genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease, supporting earlier scans showing the buildup of deposits within his arteries. In spite of the health problems from which the roughly 45-year-old Iceman suffered, he appears to have died a violent death. Researchers believe a flint arrowhead, shot into his left shoulder most likely killed him.


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