Monday, October 09, 2006

Mummy DNA Reveals Birth of Ancient Scourge
Albert Zink of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and his colleagues tested the DNA of bone samples from 91 ancient Egyptian mummies and 70 from old Nubia--modern Sudan--to determine if they had suffered from leishmaniasis. In nine of the 70 Nubian mummies--taken from graves stretching as far back as A.D. 550--mitochondrial DNA of the parasite was discovered, proving the disease was endemic at least that far back. It likely has even more ancient roots; four of the Egyptian mummies carried the parasite's DNA, each dating from the Middle Kingdom period of 2050 to 1650 B.C. when trade ties with Nubia were strongest.

Neat part: "In this study, we haven't found evidence for Leishmania DNA in the samples from the New Kingdom to the Late Period, which are 500 to 1,000 years younger than those from the Middle Kingdom," Zink notes. "Therefore, we think that the presence of leishmaniasis is more due to the close cultural contacts of the Egyptians and the Nubians."