Genetic analysis reveals Otzi Iceman predisposed to cardiovascular disease

February 28, 2012
New reconstruction of the Iceman as presented in the South Tyrolean Archaeology Museum showing the Iceman with brown eyes based on the genetic analysis. © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Photo Ochsenreiter

Scientific magazine Nature Communications publishes new findings about physiognomy, ethnic origin and predisposition towards illness of the world’s oldest glacier mummy.

Roughly eighteen months ago, a team of scientists succeeded in decoding the full genome of Ötzi, the mummified , revealing his entire genetic make-up. Thus the course was set for solving further mysteries surrounding the world’s oldest glacier mummy. And now the next milestone has been reached: researchers from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC), and from the Institutes for Human Genetics at the University of Tübingen and Saarland University have analysed various aspects of the raw data gained from the DNA sequencing. Their findings have now been published in the scientific magazine Nature Communications.

Ötzi was genetically predisposed to cardiovascular diseases, according to recent studies carried out by the team of scientists working with Albert Zink and Angela Graefen from Bolzano’s EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, Carsten Pusch and Nikolaus Blin from the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Tübingen, along with Andreas Keller and Eckart Meese from the Institute of at Saarland University. Not only was this demonstrable in the 5,000-year-old ice mummy, there was also already a symptom in the form of arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. And yet, in his lifetime, Ötzi was not exposed to the risk factors which we consider today to be the significant triggers of . He was not overweight and no stranger to exercise. “The evidence that such a genetic predisposition already existed in Ötzi’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 , the scientists were able to identify traces of bacteria from the genus Borrelia, which are responsible for causing infections and are transmitted by ticks. Carsten Pusch, who led the genetic investigations in Tübingen, comments: “This is the oldest evidence for borreliosis (Lyme disease) and proof that this infection was already present 5,000 years ago.”

One further aspect which particularly interested the scientists was the Iceman’s genetic. They found that Ötzi belonged to a particular so-called Y-chromosome haplogroup which is relatively rare in present-day Europe. The findings indicate that Ötzi’s ancestors had migrated from the Middle East as agriculture and cattle-breeding became more widespread. Their genetic heritage is most common today in geographically isolated areas and islands such as on Sardinia and Corsica.

The genetic investigations also revealed a wealth of further information facts about the physical appearance of the Iceman: he had brown eyes, brown hair, and suffered from lactose intolerance which meant he could not digest milk products. This finding supports the theory that, despite the increasing spread of agriculture and dairying, lactose intolerance was still common in Ötzi’s lifetime. The ability to digest milk throughout adulthood developed steadily over the next millennia alongside the domestication of animals.

The full genome sequencing was supported by the National Geographic Society (USA), by Life Technologies (USA) and Comprehensive Biomarker Center (Germany).

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1.2 / 5 (18) Feb 28, 2012
Well duh, he was eating flesh. Man was not built to do that. It was his lifestyle. The excuses people reach for... ticks, instead of blantant truth that man is not suppose to eat flesh... are, but another lie. The truth stands naked. Stop killing. It's destroying everything.
4.5 / 5 (11) Feb 28, 2012
Humans are omnivores -- check the teeth, the digestive chemistry, and the structure of the digestive tract. It's OK for us to eat meat (with proper moderation, of course).
1 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2012
I guess it wont be long before they discover that he suffered from epileptic episodes and the arrowhead in his back is something he fell on.
1 / 5 (7) Feb 28, 2012
Of course he had brown eyes. The gene for blue eyes is a recent one. All of the Jean Auel novels of brave young Ayla with her blonde hair and bright blue eyes are fiction.
1 / 5 (15) Feb 28, 2012
You are behaving with extreme ignorance and not on science. Man was not man before a million years ago. He has been cooking flesh in that time. His previous 7 million plus years is 100% herbivore. In fact, other than consuming flesh, man does not possess a single genetic ability for eating flesh. Acidity, taste buds, teeth, digestive track, sleep patterns, life span,... the list is quite long. If you desire to kill needlessly, admit it, because that all your doing anyway. Calling man an omnivore is like saying a red sign painted green is a green sign. Both are true, yet the point behind saying it was red sign first is completely ignored in your statement. Get real, see some killing. See what is really going on. We want the truth, not more BS excuses.
5 / 5 (7) Feb 28, 2012

Your well-meaning naivete is admirable but groundless. I too, love animals but trying to make a evolutionary argument against human consumptions of the above does not hold water. The key category in the discussion of human diet is omnivores, which are defined as generalized feeders, with neither carnivore nor herbivore specializations for acquiring or processing food, and who are capable of consuming and do consume both animal protein and vegetation. They are basically opportunistic feeders with more generalized anatomical and physiological traits, especially the dentition. All the available evidence indicates that the natural human diet is omnivorous and would include meat. We are not, however, required to consume animal protein. We have a choice. You choose not to. Don't demonize those who do.
2.3 / 5 (9) Feb 28, 2012
His previous 7 million plus years is 100% herbivore.
Yes, that's why humans have those atavistic fangs and 4 stomachs. /s
2.4 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2012
Unless I'm mistaken, it is believed that Otzi's diet was mostly grains and various carbohydrates (aka plants), not meat protein?
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
Oh you're making me hungry. I'm going to go kill some... raspberries and slaughter some... yogurt bacteria.

If that makes me a killer, so be it.
5 / 5 (3) Feb 29, 2012
You are behaving with extreme ignorance and not on science. Man was not man before a million years ago. He has been cooking flesh in that time.

You're right. When chimps eat other chimps, they don't cook the flesh. If we just ate our manflesh raw we'd be much healthier.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
@DavidW It doesn't say he had heart disease, it said he GENETICALLY predisposed to heart disease. He was born with it, he couldn't have changed his genes by eating meat. Second, India is a vegetarian nation .. what's its life expectancy? And how many medals did it win in the Olympics .. I mean India has 1.2 BILLION people .. surely they should win more than 1 or 2 medals .. and it can't be the economy .. African nations win medals as do other poor countries. Its their vegetarian diet. Third, how did a vegetarian diet work out for Steve Jobs?
0.2 / 5 (25) Feb 29, 2012
His previous 7 million plus years is 100% herbivore.
Yes, that's why humans have those atavistic fangs and 4 stomachs. /s

Not herbivore but pescetarians. We are not omnivorous either, our stomach acidity suggest we digest proteins from insects, nuts, seeds etc. but is not high enough to safely consume meat even if it is thoroughly cooked since bacteria and prions can survive the cooking. A large portion of the population is infected with prions and other illnesses without even knowing and causes secondary illnesses like diabetes, cancer, schizophrenia and other mental diseases.
Our physiology suggests we are not herbivorous(we lack the amount stomach) or carnivorous(we lack the stomach acidity, about 10-100 times over).
Our stomach acidity suggest we are pescetarians. We are not pigs or dogs.
0.2 / 5 (25) Feb 29, 2012
One of the most commonly cited reasons is that of health, based on findings that red meat is detrimental to health in many cases due to non-lean red meats containing high amounts of saturated fats.[2][3] Eating certain kinds of fish raises HDL levels,[4][5] and some fish are a convenient source of omega-3 fatty acids,[6] and have numerous health benefits in one food variety.[7] A 1999 meta-study of five studies comparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian mortality rates in Western countries found that in comparison with regular meat eaters, mortality from ischemic heart disease was 34% lower in pescetarians, 34% lower in vegetarians, 26% lower in vegans and 20% lower in occasional meat eaters.[8]
On the other hand, there have been concerns cited about consuming large quantities of some fish varieties due to their containing toxins such as mercury and PCBs,[9] though it is possible to select fish that contain little or no mercury and moderate the consumption of mercury-containing fish.[10]
1 / 5 (6) Feb 29, 2012
I wish that the author had included the y chromosome category and the mitochondrial class so that we could search his population group.
I am an I2a (P37.2)
Here is my distribution.
1 / 5 (7) Mar 04, 2012
man was a scavanger eating rotting meat it found that had died from other causes like diseases similar to vultures. The process of rotting is similar to cooking. Then we started killing and cooking meat so it would be similar to the rotting meat we evolved to consume.
1 / 5 (7) Mar 04, 2012
Unless I'm mistaken, it is believed that Otzi's diet was mostly grains and various carbohydrates (aka plants), not meat protein?

I think you are mistaken.

I'm quoting from memory only but I remember reading that they discovered remnants of small wild goat and red deer meat in his stomach and bowels. Seeing as he was clearly a hunter that makes sense.

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