The 5300-year-old Helicobacter pylori genome of the Iceman

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Science  08 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6269, pp. 162-165
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2545

Stomach ache for a European mummy

Five thousand years ago in the European Alps, a man was shot by an arrow, then clubbed to death. His body was subsequently mummified by ice until glacier retreat exhumed him in 1991. Subsequently, this ancient corpse has provided a trove of intriguing information about copper-age Europeans. Now, Maixner et al. have identified the human pathogen Helicobacter pylori within the mummy's stomach contents. The strain the “Iceman” hosted appears to most closely resemble pathogenic Asian strains found today in Central and Southern Asia.

Science, this issue p. 162


The stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori is one of the most prevalent human pathogens. It has dispersed globally with its human host, resulting in a distinct phylogeographic pattern that can be used to reconstruct both recent and ancient human migrations. The extant European population of H. pylori is known to be a hybrid between Asian and African bacteria, but there exist different hypotheses about when and where the hybridization took place, reflecting the complex demographic history of Europeans. Here, we present a 5300-year-old H. pylori genome from a European Copper Age glacier mummy. The “Iceman” H. pylori is a nearly pure representative of the bacterial population of Asian origin that existed in Europe before hybridization, suggesting that the African population arrived in Europe within the past few thousand years.

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