Iceman mummy suffered tummy troubles

Researchers Eduard Egarter-Vigl and Albert Zink sample the 5,300-year-old Iceman mummy in 2010. (Credit: Samadelli Marco / EURAC)
Eduard Egarter-Vigl and Albert Zink sample the Iceman mummy. (Credit: S. Marco / EURAC)

An analysis of the stomach contents from a 5,300-year-old European mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman has turned up a double surprise, scientists say.

First, the researchers found DNA traces of a nasty strain of bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, which is linked to ulcers. That discovery, paired with the presence of other immune-system proteins, suggests that the Iceman could have been suffering from stomach problems in addition to his other maladies – ranging from hardening of the arteries and lactose intolerance to Lyme disease and bad teeth.

The second surprise came when the research team looked more closely at the bacteria’s genome. The DNA sequence showed that the bacterial strain wasn’t the one that’s most common in Europeans today, but is linked instead to modern-day populations in South Asia.

That finding appears to answer questions relating to the peopling of Europe thousands of years ago, the researchers report in this week’s issue of the journal Science.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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