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Ancient Iceman Has No Modern Relatives

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 9/11/2009

Genghis Khan may have left his genetic mark on millions of people today, but not so Oetzi the Iceman. Part of his genome has undergone another thorough analysis and it turns out that he belongs to a genetic lineage that is rare today or has died out.

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    Who is Oetzi the Iceman?

    Oetzi is the nickname given to the 5,300 year old mummy that was found by hikers in northern Italy in 1991. The name comes from the Oetz Valley where he was found. An object of intense fascination, several studies have been carried out on his well preserved remains. Scientists have worked out that he was about 159 cm tall (approx. 5 feet 2 1/2 inches) and was in his mid-forties when he died, most likely from injuries sustained in a fight. He had been wounded by an arrow and possibly a strong blow to his face

    His genetic code has also been studied and this latest research into his ancient DNA focused on his entire mitochondrial DNA.

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    How to Analyze Ancient DNA

    When an individual dies, the DNA degrades straight away. As time progresses the amount of meaningful DNA that scientists can work with diminishes. Oetzi's ancient DNA was unsurpsingly, not in a perfect condition. For this study it was split up into 250 fragments. Each one was sequenced many times to ensure the accuracy of the results.

    Mitochondrial DNA changes very slowly over time and so provides a good medium for comparison with modern day genomes. In this case Oetzi's ancient DNA was compared with the genomes of a group of people that comprise a haplogroup. A haplogroup is simply a collection of people who share common ancestral genetic sequences. Oetzi's DNA was compared with the K1 haplogroup, and his lineage was completely different to all others.

    From this, the scientists led by Professor Franco Rollo at the University of Camerino concluded that either Oetzi's lineage is extremely rare or it has died out. Either way, at the moment it's not seen in any modern day humans.

    This new research overturns a previous genetic study of Oetzi's mitochondrial DNA that suggested he may have modern day relatives living in Europe.

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    The Search Continues

    The search for modern day relatives continues, and though the scientists involved in this study are sure of their results, they won't consider them conclusive until the DNA of people living in the valleys where Oetzi was born, has been thoroughly sampled.