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Skin Proteins from Ancient Egyptian Mummies Reveal Deadly, Infectious Diseases

Sep 24, 2016 06:14 AM EDT
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Albany Museum Grahamstown (RSA), egyptian mummy (Schönland collection)
Authors of a study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A detailed their analysis of three Egyptian mummies' skin proteins, determining the reason of their deaths such as cancers and other deadly infections.
(Photo : Lysippos/Wikimedia Commons)

Authors of a study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A detailed their analysis of three Egyptian mummies' skin proteins, determining the reason of their deaths such as cancers and other deadly infections.

The study reported that the three ancient mummies are approximately 4,200 years old. The ages of the mummies were determined by using radiocarbon dating on the textiles that were wrapped around the specimens. Determining the ages of the mummies have pinpointed that they might have lived during the period of ancient Egypt's "dark age." This so-called period was lambasted by "increasing aridity" that resulted in a "mega drought" and famine, according to the researchers.

Due to the drought and famine, there was a high risk of infection because people during that time had weak immune system. Although there are no available medical records found during that period, ancient texts had "allude[d] to chaos and death" at that time.

Using proteomics analysis on the specimen's skin and muscle tissue samples, it was discovered that one of the mummies named Idi had a tumor suppressor called DMBT-1 and transglutaminase, which are known to be related to pancreatic cancer.

Meanwhile, another mummy named Khepeshet was suspected to have died from a respiratory illness such as tuberculosis. A protein signature related to a severe immune response was found in Khepeshet. This response indicated that the body was "fighting off" a bacterial infection that is connected to the lungs.

However, the third mummy's cause of death is not yet established. The skin proteins from the third mummy are not enough to be able to pinpoint the cause of death.

Despite not finding out how the third mummy died, the study is able to give us a glimpse of how the lives of the ancient Egyptians during that period. The three ancient Egyptian mummies now confined at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.

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