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The Iceman's mysterious genetic past

A 5,000-year-old mummy displays a genetic signature no longer found in Europe, according to its complete mitochondrial DNA sequence

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11:07am, October 30, 2008

It’s been 17 years since a prehistoric man’s frozen body was found poking out of a glacier in the Italian Alps, and the mummified corpse continues to warm scientists’ hearts. The Tyrolean Iceman, or Ötzi, now has yielded the oldest complete human mitochondrial DNA sequence generated to date, say molecular biologist Franco Rollo of the University of Camerino, Italy, and his colleagues.

Mitochondria are molecular structures that provide power to cells. Because the structures contain DNA that is passed from mothers to their children, a mitochondrial DNA sequences provides a view of a person’s female ancestry.

“This study further confirms that, with new sequencing approaches, mitochondrial DNA from ancient samples can be completely sequenced,” remarks geneticist Antonio Torroni of the University of Pavia, Italy.

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