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The Iceman tells a new tale: Infection with ulcer-causing bacteria

DNA from 5,300-year-old mummy’s gut reveals presence of strain of inflammation-inducing H. pylori

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2:05pm, January 7, 2016
stomach tissue

MUMMY TUMMY  Stomach tissue from a 5,300-year-old mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman revealed the presence of a virulent strain of H. pylori bacteria. Here, scientists take a sample from the mummy’s body. 

Ötzi the Iceman had a stomach bug.

The 5,300-year-old mummy holds DNA evidence of Helicobacter pylori, a common stomach-dwelling bacteria that can cause ulcers and other ailments, researchers report in the Jan. 8 Science.

The new work could rewrite the timeline of H. pylori evolution, and possibly even offer some insight into human migration — though not everyone is convinced.

Regardless, it’s the first time anyone has stitched together the pieces of ancient H. pylori DNA, says Daniel Falush, a statistical geneticist at Swansea University in Wales who was not involved in the study. “It’s a technical achievement,” he says. Given the age of the starting material, “I’m surprised it was possible at all.”

In 1991, scientists discovered the Iceman lodged in a waist-deep block of ice in a glacier between

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