In 2017, Live Science reported the first-ever successful DNA sequencing from Egyptian mummies that lived more than 2,000 years ago in the Abusir el-Meleq a city in ancient Egypt located in the south of Cairo.
In the study, titled "Ancient Egyptian Mummy Genomes Suggest an Increase of Sub-Saharan African Ancestry in Post-Roman Periods" published in Nature Communications, researchers found that these ancient people were more genetically similar to populations living today in the eastern Mediterranean than those in modern-day Egypt.
This year, genetic researchers at Parabon NanoLabs revealed highly detailed 3D reconstructions of the faces of the three Egyptian mummies using DNA extracted from their bodies. Digital reconstructions depict the men at 25 years old.
Faces of Three Egyptian Mummies Reconstructed Using Genetic Analysis
In the news release of Parabon Nanolabs, they reported that the mummy samples were estimated to be between 2,023 and 2,797 years old. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Tubingen in Germany performed enzymatic damage repair on each mummy before conducting DNA sequencing.
Then Parabon used the resulting whole-genome sequencing data and selected three samples with the highest quality to analyze. The Virginia-based DNA technology company said that this is the first comprehensive DNA phenotyping the company has performed on human DNA of this age.
They used Snapshot, a phenotyping method to predict the ancestry of mummies, to predict the ancestry, pigmentation, and face morphology of the three mummies. Parabon representatives noted that the overall genetic makeup of the mummies is closer to the modern Mediterranean or the Middle East people than modern-day Egyptians.
Researchers generated 3D meshes for the outline of the faces and calculated heat maps to highlight differences between the three faces. They combined these results with the Snapshot predictions and reveal that the mummies once had light brown skin with dark eyes and hair.
Two Reasons Why Forensic DNA Phenotyping in Mummies Could Be Challenging
Live Science reported that DNA phenotyping in mummies could be challenging because of two reasons: their DNA is highly degraded, and it is usually mixed with DNA from bacteria.
Parabon's director of bioinformatic Ellen Greytak told the news outlet that the amount of human DNA left from the mummies could be very small, but scientists do not need the entire genome to predict the physical features of a person because the vast majority of their DNA is shared between all humans.
Greytak said that they only needed to analyze specific spots in the genome that are unique to other people, which are called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are codes for the physical differences of each person.
However, there could be cases wherein SNPs are not enough. Parabon bioinformatics scientist Janet Cady said that scientists can replace absent genetic data with substituted values that are derived from nearby SNPs to make a statistical prediction of the missing SNPs.
Greytak said that this technology used on mummies could help recreate the faces of modern humans, citing the 175 cold cases Parabon researchers have helped solve using genetic genealogy.
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