Mummy DNA
HURGHADA, EGYPT - CIRCA NOV, 2015: Golden tomb of Egyptian pharaoh is in the hotel museum. The Alf Leila Wa Leila spa (1001 Nights) is one of the Pickalbatros chain in Hurgada (Kekyalyaynen / Shutterstock.com)

Researchers have discovered the ancient mummies do not have much in common with modern Egyptians.

Analyzing DNA from mummies that are thousands of years old have revealed that ancient Egyptians are more genetically linked to people living in countries such as Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.

Scientists once believed mummies did not contain any DNA. Then a team in 2010 analyzed ancient DNA from 16 Royal mummies. At that time, their method they used was not very useful in distinguishing actual money DNA from new DNA that might’ve been contaminated. However, on Tuesday, researchers published a study in the Journal of Nature Communications illustrating how scientists used a more precise and innovative method of DNA sequencing to analyze genetic data from several mummies from several different time periods in ancient Egyptian history.

Mummy

ROME, ITALY – JUNE 4, 2016: ancient Egyptian pharaoh statues in the Vatican Museum (Viktor Gladkov / Shutterstock.com)

The team of researchers studied over 150 mommies from a site about 100 km south of Cairo. These mummies were excavated in the early 1900s, and carbon dating showed that their history range from 1388 BCE to 426 CE. While there was no available genetic material in any of the soft tissue, researchers were able to identify DNA in the bones and teeth of the mummies. Approximately, 90 of these bodies had incomplete DNA, and only three contains an entirely intact genome. Researchers then concentrated their focus on those three bodies.

Researchers compared the DNA of the ancient mummies to both old and modern people in the same region. As a result, researchers were able to identify that ancient Egyptians are more genetically similar to those living in the Middle East. Moreover, they have more in common with people living in countries such as Israel, Lebanon, and Syria then today’s Egyptians. In fact, the mummies identified in the study did not have any DNA from sub-Saharan Africa, while 20% of today’s Egyptians have sub-Saharan genes. Lead author and study Johannes Krause told Science that modern-day variation might be because of the spread of Islam or the increased amount of contact due to trade between different parts of Africa.

The DNA sequencing method used in the study adds credibility to the research results. Scientists looked at any DNA in a given sample and then isolated the genetic material that might be human. The team looked for DNA patterns that correlate with ancient DNA, allowing them to ignore DNA that might’ve been contaminated.

While the study is fascinating, the new DNA sequencing method may leave the way for further research studies regarding ancient animals, humans, and societies.

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Megan Diane
With a background in biology, chemistry, and psychology, Megan’s favorite stories highlight how science influences and enhances individuals’ lives. She worked in a research laboratory studying genetic diseases. Megan also has a working knowledge of the science community and scientific advances in technology.