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Anthropologist says Iceman's DNA can reveal only so much
Almost 20 years after his discovery, Oetzi (Ötzi) the Iceman is a step closer to making his identity known. Italian and German scientists announced Tuesday that they have sequenced the DNA of the 5,300-year-old mummy found frozen in the Ötztal Alps.
Now, those scientists must decipher the genetic traits – such as diseases and eye color – indicated by the order of the base pairs of Oetzi’s DNA. The hope is to not only learn about him but also about the people of his time and what links they have to the people of today.
As a graduate student, professor Anne Stone of Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was part of the team investigating the Iceman.
A specialist in anthropological genetics, Stone is excited by the recent news but also cautious. “It is a sample of one. For us to really say something about that period, you need a sample of 25 to 50 individuals,” she explained during an interview with Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster.
At best, scientists hope Oetzi provides clues to the evolution of human diseases, leading to more effective treatments of those conditions. On a smaller scale, they are interested in learning more about Oetzi’s physiology and comparing Iceman and Alpine region population data to see if his genes are still around.
The first attempt at sequencing Oetzi’s DNA came in the mid 1990s. Mitochondrial sequencing was successful, but other efforts were not because of the limitations of sequencing technology at the time. According to bioinformatics expert Andreas Keller of Febit – the German company that helped sequence the Iceman’s DNA – evaluation of the base pairs should be complete in about four months.
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