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    Ötzi the iceman’s gut microbes shed lights on ancient human geography

    Researchers have discovered the stomach bug helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in the famous 5,300-year-old mummy known as Ötzi the iceman, suggesting the bacteria were in his stomach when he died in the Tyrolean Alps of Italy.
    It wasn’t just any gut microbe—this early farmer was infected with a particular ancient strain of Helicobacter pylori bacteria that is most similar to modern Asian strains. By sequencing the genome of this ancient pathogen, which can cause ulcers in people today, researchers have made a surprising discovery about Ötzi’s own history: His ancestors inherited bacteria from Asia rather than Africa, suggesting that the predecessors of early European farmers had intimate contact with Asians before they migrated to Europe.
    From iceman’s remarkably well-preserved gut tissue, researchers at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) in Italy were able to isolate enough bacterial DNA to sequence the genome of H. pylori to relatively high resolution, as they report in Science on Jan 8th 2016. The team also discovered that Ötzi, who was in his 40s, had harbored the H. pylori long enough to have a gut reaction to the microbe—his tissue showed the expression of 22 proteins that are associated with inflammation. Lead author Frank Maixner, a microbial ecologist at EURAC, suggests that the ancestors of early European farmers such as Ötzi must have carried H. pylori with DNA from Asian strains perhaps in the Middle East before they migrated to Europe. Then, new immigrants carrying African microbes arrived in Europe much later, after Ötzi lived. The two types of microbes mixed in these migrants, creating today’s European strain much more recently than expected.