Ötzi ice mummy was suffering from a stomach infection | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 07.01.2016
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Ötzi ice mummy was suffering from a stomach infection

Researchers have found aggressive intestinal bacteria in a 5,250-year-old mummy from the Tyrolian Alps. Today, that strain of Heliobacter pylori is endemic in parts of Asia.

Almost 25 years have passed since the discovery of a glacier-mummy named "Ötzi." But today the corpse discovered in the Ötztal Alps in Tyrolia is divulging even more secrets to researchers.

Ötzi, says a team of scientists, was suffering from an infection due to an intestinal germ called Heliobacter pylori.

The identified strain of the bacteria can cause stomach ulcers or cancers.

Decrypting bacteria

Albert Zink, a paleopathology professor at Vienna University and co-author of the paper published today in the journal "Science," says the discovery of the germ by way of genome analysis involved a bit of good fortune.

"It was very improbable to find anything, since Ötzi's stomach lining was gone," he says.

Sebastian Suerbaum a medical doctor from the Institute for Microbiology at the Hannover Medical School who was not involved in the study, says that finding and decrypting the DNA of 5,250-year-old bacteria in this way is nothing short of a "technological breakthrough."

The researchers analyzed the DNA of all stomach contents inside the corpse.

A reconstructed Ötzi

This is how scientists think Ötzi must have looked at the time of his death.

Was Ötzi a migrant?

Previously, the oldest samples of the bacteria Heliobacter pylori had come from the 1980s. That's because it was only discovered in 1983. Humans have probably been carrying it around for about 100,000 years, though.

Today, it can be found in about half of the world's population.

The strain found in Ötzi is similar to varieties common in Central and Southern Asia, which is why the scientists involved have concluded that Ötzi was probably not a typical inhabitant of the Alps.

A well-known mummy

Mountain hikers found the corpse on September 19, 1991 on the 3208-meter (10,524-foot) high Tisenjoch glacier. Ötzi had lain there for more than 5,000 years, unusually well preserved in the snow and ice since his death.

Researchers previously established that he was likely killed by someone else, as an arrowhead was found in his shoulder. Shortly before his death, he had eaten the meat of a billy goat. He suffered from dental cavities, stress and lyme disease. His DNA has been decrypted, his blood type is known, and so too is his eye color. He was also lactose intolerant and even had a tattoo.

fs/cd (dpa, "Science")

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