Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Analysing the Pharaoh's DNA - FACT or FICTION?

We all know it's a fact that scientist are now able to analyse DNA from Egyptian mummies. For example, do you remember the Discovery Channel documentary King Tut Unwrapped? Viewers were left in no doubt that DNA analysis proved the mummies' family relationships, as well as illnesses such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Fact. We saw it: Zahi Hawass, all the scientists, all the fabulous high-tech equipment, all the self-congratulatory back-slapping.

It must be true. Well, maybe not, according to an article in the latest issue of  Nature News.  There's another scientific view that says it can't be done at the moment. Ancient DNA is too degraded and contaminated to extract accurate and conclusive results.

The technique of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify tiny amounts of DNA from ancient samples is at the heart of the debate. "After thousands of years in Egypt's hot climate ... mummies are extremely unlikely to contain DNA fragments large enough to be amplified by PCR," says the article.

Click here to read this really interesting article in Nature News which highlights the debate about 'molecular Egyptology'.

Who is right and who is wrong and could new sequencing methods bridge the divide?

Don't forget to leave your comments here.

1 comment:

  1. King Tut Unwrapped has just finished being re-screened on Channel 5 in the UK. This clip is interesting as it makes the point about contamination - made by a woman who appears to be lurking in the corner of the lab and wearing absolutely no protective clothing whatsoever.


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