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Does mummification destroy DNA?
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Thu May 05, 2005 8:47 pm    Post subject: Does mummification destroy DNA? Reply with quote

I've got another question here that's been bugging me-is it true that the mummification process destroys the DNA of the person, and that is why people can't do DNA analysis of mummies for things such as evidence of genetic disease, to see if people are related, or (more controversially) determine the 'race' of the ancient Egyptians? I know the 'race of the Egyptians' topic has been done to death (though not as badly as on *other* forums) but isn't DNA the most accurate way to determine ethnicity? I assume there are other ways to determine this though...
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PostPosted: Fri May 06, 2005 12:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Morphology of the bones and features of the skull can also help identify ethnicity--it's one tool forensic anthropologists use--but a good DNA sample sure helps.

Mummification does not destroy DNA any more than it does cellular tissue, but it certainly doesn't help. It may well damage DNA, but at the same time, a really good mummification helps to preserve it. An amazing amount of things are preserved by mummification. For instance, we can identify blood types, and we can even study the microscopic parasites that made folks sick from the poluted water they drank.

What's more the challenge is simply that the DNA is very, very old. Despite the occasional news story about this or that ancient body being discovered and having its DNA examined, for the most part we have not yet advanced enough scientifically to make a reliable study of very old DNA. It breaks down like any organic tissue through time. And a body subjected to a poor mummification makes matters only worse, and of course the vast majority of Egyptians never received a good mummification (or any mummification at all).

Wait a few years. The way things are going these days, it won't be long before scientists have a handle on this.
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anneke
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PostPosted: Fri May 06, 2005 1:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think that a good mummification would help.

Quote:
When an organism dies its DNA is rapidly broken down into smaller and smaller fragments through the action of enzymes, oxygen and water. Sometimes this process is slowed enabling small fragments of DNA to survive within the preserved remains of the organism.


Mummification dehydrates the body, and if done well cuts off the oxygen.

Quote:
Ancient DNA also survives longer when combined with other substances. Hydroxyapatite (a calcium-containing compound found in bones and teeth), some proteins and sugars can all prolong the life of ancient DNA.


This quote kinda explained to me why you often hear of experts trying to extract the DNA from either the bones or the teeth.

I think this is true even in modern forensics. If they find a body they will often try to extract the DNA from the teeth.

If scientists are dealing with ancient DNA, they have to do something called "amplification". This means they have to artificially increase the amount of DNA they got. There are some questions about this technique (it can introduce some statistical anomalies I think).

Furter more, the samples could be contaminated with bacterial or fungal organisms which would be the first to show up in the tests Smile

[I got some of the info from:
http://www.museum.vic.gov.au/scidiscovery/dna/preserved.asp ]
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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2005 1:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the info, anneke. I'd read about amplification long ago but had forgotten about it. Your post explains the situation much better than mine. I wonder exactly how amplification works? I wonder how reliable it is? Thinking about it, you can begin to see why some hesitate to put much stock at the present time into studying ancient, fragmented DNA.
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Shemsu Sesen
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would like to revive this topic for a moment.

There has been a lot of recent excitement about the genetic mapping of the 18th Dynasty, in particular with Tut's family. As one who has been adding his own two cents worth, I guess I should do a little fact checking!

What is the current status of DNA testing? Is the science really there to do what Zahi Hawass is claiming, or is this hype? I have been trying to find something that approaches the DNA studies from a critical angle, but so far all I can find is praise and excitement.

Is there any reason to doubt the accuracy of the tests? I have read some concerns with regard to tracing the maternal lines, but nothing quesitoning the accuracy of the genetic tests themselves.

If this is nothing but good news, then great! But if there is legitimate criticism that is getting lost in the excitement, then not so much.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 26, 2009 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ancient DNA (aDNA) amplification is possible and there are many examples of when it has been done. However, aside from there being a severe lack of available resources, it is a very hard process.

The majority of samples that are subject to aDNA testing fail to produce results. There are big problems with contamination of samples, and even when samples are amplified, it is often hard to identify the DNA (it could just be a string of 'junk' or non-coding DNA).
Good preservation by mummification actually helps with the preservation of aDNA. Unfortunately, the teeth (a great source of DNA) are often in very poor condition due to the diet, therefore leaving dentine and nerves exposed and leaving little DNA evidence. For the teeth that are in tact, it is very unlikely that anyone would let you take a tooth and saw it in half (as required) when mummies are such a finite source.
The best condition for preserving aDNA is cold, arid climates - the opposite to what you will find in Egypt. Therefore the environment is not helpful to the preservation of aDNA.

A big problem is that no aDNA study can show results in isolation; it is dependent on previous research and relevant modern genetic data to provide a context for results.
Plus, this process is extremely costly and as it requires many amplifications and repeated results, the cost just goes up and up.

So while it is possible, and can provide evidence as to lineage, it is very hard to get your hands on a sample and harder still to provide the costs needed to fund it.

A lot of the information known about lineage and identifying remains actually comes from non-invasive techniques of study and more so from archaelogical findings. The reason I believe they are trying DNA testings on these particular remains is because they weren't found in what is thought to be their 'original' area of the tomb - it looks like they have been hauled out some distance from their burial chamber. The only reason they suspect the lineage at present is also to do with one artifact found near the bodies (with a name written on it).

The problem with Egyptology is that most things aren't known, they are speculated. DNA testing could prove the lineage, though I would be very suprised if there were clear results (and there is always the issue that Dr Hawass refuses his results to be re-tested by other labs).
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2009 6:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That case with Hawass is more than just an issue--it's a real problem. In many cases findings produced by only one lab may be regarded as suspect, and their reliability challenged. In the very least Hawass must allow foreign experts access to the process and the results, for the sake of authenticity.

This he did with the CT scans of Tut several years back, up to and including allowing the scans to be examined by Siemens scientists back in Germany. The team examining them in Cairo also included three or more foreign forensic experts.

Hawass will soon be stepping down as secretary general of the SCA. We've heard at the Field Museum that the new secretary is more of an old-school scientist, given more to the scientific method than the gleam of TV-camera lenses. We can hope for the best, then. Smile
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Sothis
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2009 2:33 pm    Post subject: does mummification destroy ancient DNA Reply with quote

So, Hawass really does retire from his job next year? I thought that his appointment to Vice Minister of Culture served at least partly the purpose that he could stay head of the SCA for longer. But if he goes, probably even better.
I reckon that if he really has found out some reliable facts of lineage in his DNA testing, he is sure to announce them before he steps down. He won`t leave the "glory" to his successor. But, also possible and unfortunately even more likely, he has nothing to tell at all and leaves the stage not mentioning that he has ever carried out DNA tests on mummies.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2009 3:18 pm    Post subject: Re: does mummification destroy ancient DNA Reply with quote

Sothis wrote:
So, Hawass really does retire from his job next year? I thought that his appointment to Vice Minister of Culture served at least partly the purpose that he could stay head of the SCA for longer. But if he goes, probably even better.


No, Hawass will move to Vice Minister of Culture and give up the SCA position, mainly due to the fact that Egyptian law says he has to because of his age. However, Hawass will likely choose his successor, and keep a close tab on SCA activities, you can be sure.

Further, as Vice Minister of Culture, Hawass will have more policy-making ability overall in respect to Egyptian antiquities and research/excavation, I should think, which means we will probably not see any lessening of the requirements for excavating in Egypt.

Further, as Vice Minister of Culture, as Hawass himself notes, there is no mandatory retirement age, so he can guide antiquities policy until he dies, I suppose.

Sothis wrote:
I reckon that if he really has found out some reliable facts of lineage in his DNA testing, he is sure to announce them before he steps down. He won`t leave the "glory" to his successor. But, also possible and unfortunately even more likely, he has nothing to tell at all and leaves the stage not mentioning that he has ever carried out DNA tests on mummies.


Or he can announce them as Vice Minister of Culture, whose position he's apparently usurped as SCA Secretary General: it would look a lot more impressive for him to start making these announcements as an official goverment minister, rather than as SCA Secretary General (who used to pass all announcements through the Ministry of Culture, until Hawass was named as SCA Secretary General in 2002).

That's my take on the situation as it stands.
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 29, 2009 6:40 am    Post subject: Re: does mummification destroy ancient DNA Reply with quote

[quote="neseret"]
Sothis wrote:


...

Further, as Vice Minister of Culture, Hawass will have more policy-making ability overall in respect to Egyptian antiquities and research/excavation, I should think, which means we will probably not see any lessening of the requirements for excavating in Egypt.

...


I think this is a positive. In my own opinion the SCA under Hawass has done, for the most part, a good job regulating and controlling excavations. Several years back I attended a lecture at the O.I. by Ray Johnson, of the Chicago House, who related excavations are being limited by the SCA to an extent so that certain agencies can concentrate on the conservation and restoration of certain sites. I don't know if this is still the case but it's a wise decision. Dr. Johnson explained how the staff of the Chicago House were involved in the efforts. His slide show included photos of stone masonry at Karnak that had been destroyed by salts leeching from the soil.

Any sense, neseret, that in his vice ministerial position Hawass will have more direct involvement with the tourism industry in Egypt? LOL I get the idea from a couple of interviews with Hawass I've read that he's butted heads in the past with tourism officials in the government. It's understandable. Spending so many years as an archaeologist, Hawass's first impulse must be to protect valuable monuments and sites.
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Lutz
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 12:37 pm    Post subject: Re: does mummification destroy ancient DNA Reply with quote

neseret wrote:
... No, Hawass will move to Vice Minister of Culture and give up the SCA position, mainly due to the fact that Egyptian law says he has to because of his age. ...

Hi neseret !

Are you sure with that ?
Quote:
"... This past week the President of Egypt signed a decree naming me the Vice Minister of Culture. (..) There is a rule in Egypt that when a government official reaches a certain age, they retire. Therefore I was planning to retire next May. (..) But then President Mubarak called me on the phone to ask me when I am really retiring. He said he would appoint me the Vice Minister of Culture, which would mean that I would not have to retire next year, as Ministers and Vice Ministers in Egypt have no set age for retirement. ..."

(From : http://www.drhawass.com/node/350 - Dr. Hawass Named Vice Minister of Culture of Egypt )

I would also understand this in the same way like Sothis : Now he is also "Vice Minister" and the rule in Egypt that when a government official reaches a certain age, they retire, does not matter for him anymore ... Question

Greetings, Lutz.

P.S. - I like this part most :
Quote:
"... When President Mubarak made this decision and it was published in the newspaper, the reaction was wonderful; I have never seen before in my life anything like it. All the people of Cairo, rich and poor, the taxi drivers and doormen and everyone was so happy. ...

Strange, when I was in Cairo last November my taxi driver did not know his name and also not found the SCA building ... without my map! Laughing
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 12:44 pm    Post subject: Re: Does mummification destroy DNA? Reply with quote

isisinacrisis wrote:
... that is why people can't do DNA analysis of mummies for things such as evidence of genetic disease, to see if people are related, or (more controversially) determine the 'race' of the ancient Egyptians? ...

Suitably about : http://www.deccanchronicle.com/international/method-found-read-30000-year-old-dna-826 - " Method found to read 30,000-year-old DNA " - January 3rd, 2010.

Greetings, Lutz.
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neseret
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 3:52 pm    Post subject: Re: does mummification destroy ancient DNA Reply with quote

Lutz wrote:
neseret wrote:
... No, Hawass will move to Vice Minister of Culture and give up the SCA position, mainly due to the fact that Egyptian law says he has to because of his age. ...

Hi neseret !

Are you sure with that ?
Quote:
"... This past week the President of Egypt signed a decree naming me the Vice Minister of Culture. (..) There is a rule in Egypt that when a government official reaches a certain age, they retire. Therefore I was planning to retire next May. (..) But then President Mubarak called me on the phone to ask me when I am really retiring. He said he would appoint me the Vice Minister of Culture, which would mean that I would not have to retire next year, as Ministers and Vice Ministers in Egypt have no set age for retirement. ..."

(From : http://www.drhawass.com/node/350 - Dr. Hawass Named Vice Minister of Culture of Egypt )

I would also understand this in the same way like Sothis : Now he is also "Vice Minister" and the rule in Egypt that when a government official reaches a certain age, they retire, does not matter for him anymore ... Question


The SCA position Hawass holds (at present) has a mandatory retirement age (70, I think) which Hawass reaches within 2010. Thus he was expected to step down within this year as SCA Secretary.

However, with his move to the Vice Minister of Culture, he avoids having to retire. This is also what I said in my original post, to wit:

Further, as Vice Minister of Culture, as Hawass himself notes, there is no mandatory retirement age, so he can guide antiquities policy until he dies, I suppose.

In short, it's a political maneuver (by Hawass, I should think) to maintain the authority and control over the antiquities section by "kicking him upstairs" to a new position where retirement age requirements do not apply. Laughing

Lutz wrote:
P.S. - I like this part most :
Quote:
"... When President Mubarak made this decision and it was published in the newspaper, the reaction was wonderful; I have never seen before in my life anything like it. All the people of Cairo, rich and poor, the taxi drivers and doormen and everyone was so happy. ...

Strange, when I was in Cairo last November my taxi driver did not know his name and also not found the SCA building ... without my map! Laughing


Quelle surprise. Wink

Most people in Cairo could not name Zahi Hawass, or what he does, if you asked them. I always take such statements by Hawass as examples of Zahi's ebullient gift for hyperbole. Razz
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Sothis
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 10:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is a really interesting article in your link, Lutz. It seems that a way has been found to overcome one of the main problems in ancient DNA testing, the need to multiply the DNA strands which as I understand is not easy and can slightly alter the probes.

One should pass this information on to Zahi so that he -maybe- could finally get around and bring his testing to show some results (which he then should be willing to share with the public, of course).
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Hawass said then the DNA tests also would determine Tutankhamun's lineage, and whether the foetuses were the offspring of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenpamon, the daughter of Nefertiti who is renowned as one of history's great beauties."

-from Yahoo News

How can this test show Tutankhamun's lineage? If they only test the children and Tut, can that show who his parents were?
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