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The Iceman (reconstruction by Adrie and Alfons Kennis). Image Credit: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Foto Ochsenreiter
The Iceman (reconstruction by Adrie and Alfons Kennis). Image Credit: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Foto Ochsenreiter

Scientists Find Ulcer-Causing Bacteria in Ötzi the Ice Man

The Iceman (reconstruction by Adrie and Alfons Kennis). Image Credit: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Foto Ochsenreiter
The Iceman (reconstruction by Adrie and Alfons Kennis). Image Credit: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Foto Ochsenreiter

In 1991, hikers in the Alps found the body of a Copper Age man preserved in a glacier in the Italian Alps. That body—nicknamed “Ötzi” or “the Ice Man”—has become a rich source of information on Neolithic humans. His latest contribution comes straight from the gut: Scientists have found that Ötzi was infected with the same bacteria that causes ulcers in modern humans.

Ötzi was a survivor; that much is clear. Before he was killed by an arrow to the back about 5300 years ago, he endured parasites, degenerative conditions, and bacterial infections to live to about 45 years of age—an old man, by the standards of his time.

In the two decades since the discovery of Ötzi’s body, scientists have mapped the Ice Man’s plentiful tattoos, sampled his stomach contents to determine his last meal, and sequenced his genome. Now a team of researchers has analyzed his gut bacteria. The results of the study were published online today in the journal Science.

Eduard Egarter-Vigl (left) and Albert Zink (right) taking a sample from the Iceman in November 2010. Image credit: © EURAC/Marion Lafogler

“One of the first challenges was to obtain samples from the stomach without doing any damage to the mummy,” researcher Albert Zink said in a press-only teleconference yesterday. The body was kept frozen to prevent any further deterioration, so the first step was to defrost it. The researchers went in through an incision in Ötzi’s belly made during previous examinations. They took a sample of the Ice Man’s stomach contents and sequenced the DNA of everything they found. From there, they were able to spot and tease out the genomes of specific bacteria—most notably, Helicobacter pylori.

H. pylori is still around today, wreaking havoc in the guts of millions of people around the globe. The bacterium embeds in a person’s stomach lining, causing irritation that can lead to peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. The National Institutes of Health estimate that two-thirds of us are infected with H. pylori, although many people will not have symptoms.

Was Ötzi one of those people? It’s hard to say. His body was well preserved, but some parts had deteriorated over time, including his stomach lining. “He probably had some stomach issues, but we cannot really tell to what extent,” Zink said.

There are several strains of H. pylori, each originating from a different area of the globe. Because Ötzi was discovered on the border of modern-day Italy and Austria, the researchers expected to find the European strain. Instead, they found a strain that’s most commonly found in modern-day Asia, a fact that suggests humans from the two continents were already very familiar with one another.

"This mixing of two bacterial populations can only ever happen if humans actually come together, and by coming together, I mean, intimately," study co-author Yoshan Moodley said in the press conference.

Despite this infection his lactose intolerance, and his hard life, Ötzi was still going strong when he died, the researchers said.

“We think that he could have lived another 10 or 20 years if he wasn't killed by this arrow in his back,” Zink said. “So in the end, it was for sure a tough life in this time period, but with regard to this life circumstance, I think he was still in quite good shape.”

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Courtesy of Nature
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Scientists Create Three Puppy Clones of 'Snuppy,' the World's First Cloned Dog
Courtesy of Nature
Courtesy of Nature

Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, died in 2015, but his genetic legacy lives on. As the National Post reports, South Korean scientists recently described in the journal Scientific Reports the birth of three clone puppies, all of which are identical replicas of the famous Afghan hound.

Those who lived through the 1990s might remember Dolly, the Scottish sheep that gained fame for being the very first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Following Dolly's 1996 cloning, scientists managed to replicate other animals, including cats, mice, cows, and horses. But dog cloning initially stymied scientists, Time reports, as their breeding period is limited and their eggs are also hard to extract.

Ultimately, researchers ended up using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone a dog, the same method that was used to make Dolly. In the early 2000s, a team of South Korean scientists inserted DNA harvested from an Afghan hound's skin cells into a dog egg from which the DNA had been removed. The egg divided, which produced multiple cloned embryos.

The scientists implanted 1095 of these embryos in 123 dogs, an exhaustive initiative that yielded just three pregnancies, according to NPR. Of these, Snuppy—whose name is a combination of "puppy" and Seoul National University's initials—was the only survivor.

Snuppy died from cancer in April 2015, just shortly after his 10th birthday. To celebrate his successful life, the same South Korean researchers decided to re-clone him using mesenchymal stem cells from the dog's belly fat, which were taken when he was five. This time around, they transferred 94 reconstructed embryos to seven dogs. Four clones were later born, although one ended up dying shortly after birth.

The tiny Snuppy clones are now more than a year old, and researchers say that they don't think that the pups face the risk of accelerated aging, nor are they more disease-prone than other dogs. (Dolly died when she was just six years old, while cloned mice have also experienced shorter lifespans.) Snuppy's somatic cell donor, Tai, lived just two years longer than Snuppy, dying at age 12, the average lifespan of an Afghan hound.

Researchers say that this new generation of Snuppys will yield new insights into the health and longevity of cloned animals. Meanwhile, in other animal cloning news, a Texas-based company called ViaGen Pets is now offering to clone people's beloved pets, according to CBS Pittsburgh—a service that costs a cool $50,000 for dogs.

[h/t National Post]

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Researchers Pinpoint the Genes Behind the Durian's Foul Stench
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iStock

Durian is a popular fruit in parts of southeast Asia. It's also known for having the most putrid, off-putting odor of any item sold in the produce section. Even fans of durian know why the fruit gets a bad rap, but what exactly causes its divisive scent is less obvious. Determined to find the answer, a team of researchers funded by "a group of anonymous durian lovers" mapped the fruit's genome, as reported by the BBC.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics [PDF], contains data from the first-ever complete genetic mapping of a durian fruit. It confirms that durian's excess stinkiness comes from sulfur, a chemical element whose scent is often compared to that of rotten eggs.

Analysis of the fruit's chemical makeup has been done in the past, so the idea that sulfur is a major contributor to its signature smell is nothing new. What is new is the identification of the specific class of sulfur-producing genes. These genes pump out sulfur at a "turbocharged" rate, which explains why the stench is powerful enough to have durian banned in some public areas. It may seem like the smell is a defense mechanism to ward off predators, but the study authors write that it's meant to have the opposite effect. According to the paper, "it is possible that linking odor and ripening may provide an evolutionary advantage for durian in facilitating fruit dispersal." In other words, the scent attracts hungry primates that help spread the seeds of ripe durian fruits by consuming them.

The revelation opens the door to genetically modified durian that are tweaked to produce less sulfur and therefore have a milder taste and smell. But such a product would likely inspire outrage from the food's passionate fans. While the flavor profile has been compared to rotten garbage and dead animal meat, it's also been praised for its "overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana, and egg custard" by those who appreciate its unique character.

[h/t BBC]

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