Even 5,000-Year-Old Iceman Suffered Hardening Arteries

by Nancy Needhima on Mar 2 2012 12:00 PM

Even 5,000-Year-Old Iceman Suffered Hardening Arteries
The way Otzi, the 5,000-year-old ice mummy, suffered from hardening of arteries and was genetically prone to cardiovascular diseases has been decoded by scientists.
Surprisingly, in his lifetime, Otzi was not exposed to the risk factors which today are known to trigger cardiovascular disease. He was neither overweight nor stranger to exercise.

Roughly 18 months ago, a team of scientists succeeded in decoding the full genome of Otzi, the mummified Iceman, discovered by two hikers Sep 19, 1991, revealing his entire genetic make-up, the journal Nature Communications reports.

The team comprised Albert Zink and Angela Graefen from Bolzano's EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy; and Carsten Pusch and Nikolaus Blin, geneticists from the University of Tubingen in Germany; along with Andreas Keller and Eckart Meese from the Institute of Human Genetics at Saarland University in Germany, according to an EURAC statement.

"The evidence that such a genetic predisposition already existed in Otzi's lifetime is of huge interest to us. It indicates that cardiovascular disease is by no means an illness chiefly associated with modern lifestyles. We are now eager to use these data to help us explore further how these diseases developed," says anthropologist Albert Zink with bioinformatics expert Andreas Keller.

Apart from this genetic predisposition, the scientists were able to identify traces of bacteria from the genus Borrelia, which are responsible for causing infections and are transmitted by ticks.

Pusch, who led the genetic investigations in Tubingen, comments: "This is the oldest evidence for borreliosis (Lyme disease) and proof that this infection was already present 5,000 years ago."

The full genome sequencing was supported by the National Geographic Society and Life Technologies of the US and Comprehensive Biomarker Centre, Germany.