Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New Scientific Analysis Shines a Light on Ötzi the Iceman’s Dark Secrets

Protein investigation supports brain injury theory and opens up new research possibilities for mummies

After decoding the Iceman’s genetic make-up, a research team from the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC), Saarland University, Kiel University and other partners has now made another major breakthrough in mummy research: using just a pinhead-sized sample of brain tissue from the world-famous glacier corpse, the team was able to extract and analyse proteins to further support the theory that Ötzi suffered some form of brain damage in the final moments of his life.

Iceman Brain Red Blood Cells
Marek Janko, TU Darmstadt

Two dark coloured areas at the back of the Iceman’s cerebrum had first been mentioned back in 2007 during a discussion about the fracture to his skull. Scientists surmised from a CAT scan of his brain that he had received a blow to the forehead during his deadly attack that caused his brain to knock against the back of his head, creating dark spots from the bruising. Till now, this hypothesis had been left unexplored.

In 2010, with the help of computer-controlled endoscopy, two samples of brain tissue the size of a pinhead were extracted from the glacier mummy. This procedure was carried out via two tiny (previously existing) access holes and was thus minimally invasive. Microbiologist Frank Maixner (EURAC, Institute for Mummies and the Iceman) and his fellow scientist Andreas Tholey (Institute for Experimental Medicine, Kiel University) conducted two parallel, independent studies on the tiny bundles of cells. Tholey’s team provided the latest technology used in the study of complex protein mixtures known as “proteomes”. The various analyses were coordinated by Frank Maixner and Andreas Keller.

The protein research revealed a surprising amount of information. Scientists were able to identify numerous brain proteins, as well as proteins from blood cells. Microscopic investigation also confirmed the presence of astonishingly well-preserved neural cell structures and clotted blood cells. On the one hand, this led the scientists to conclude that the recovered samples did indeed come from brain tissue in remarkably good condition (the proteins contained amino acid sequence features specific to Ötzi).

On the other hand, these blood clots in a corpse almost devoid of blood provided further evidence that Ötzi’s brain had possibly suffered bruising shortly before his death. Whether this was due to a blow to the forehead or a fall after being injured by the arrow remains unclear.

The discoveries represent a major breakthrough for the scientists. The research team emphasised that “the use of new protein-analysis methods has enabled us to pioneer this type of protein investigation on the soft tissue of a mummified human, extracting from the tiniest sample a vast quantity of data which in the future may well answer many further questions.” While many DNA samples from mummies are difficult or impossible to analyse because of natural biological decay, one can often still find proteins in tissue samples which allow a closer analysis and provide valuable information, explained Andreas Tholey:

“Proteins are the decisive players in tissues and cells, and they conduct most of the processes which take place in cells. Identification of the proteins is therefore key to understanding the functional potential of a particular tissue. DNA is always constant, regardless of from where it originates in the body, whereas proteins provide precise information about what is happening in specific regions within the body.” Protein analysis of mummified tissue makes an especially valuable contribution to DNA research, Maixner added: “Investigating mummified tissue can be very frustrating. The samples are often damaged or contaminated and do not necessarily yield results, even after several attempts and using a variety of investigative methods. When you think that we have succeeded in identifying actual tissue changes in a human who lived over 5,000 years ago, you can begin to understand how pleased we are as scientists that we persisted with our research after many unsuccessful attempts. It has definitely proved worthwhile!”

The results of this joint study are published in the renowned journal “Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences”. Along with a sample taken from the Iceman´s stomach content, more than a dozen tissue samples from less well preserved mummies from all over the world will be submitted to this new protein-based research method and should provide insights which previously had not been possible.

Laura Defranceschi | idw
Further information:

Further reports about: CAT scan DNA Dark Quencher Iceman Protein SECRETS blood cell blood clot brain tissue tissue samples Ötzi

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>