The children of Llullallaico. a) La Doncella (the Maiden); b) El Niño (the Boy); and c) La Niña (the Girl). (Credit: Angelique Corthals, Antonius Koller, Dwight W. Martin, Robert Rieger, Emily I. Chen, Mario Bernaski, Gabriella Recagno, Liliana M. Dávalos. Detecting the Immune System Response of a 500 Year-Old Inca Mummy. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (7): e41244 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041244)
Ancient Incan Mummy Had Lung Infection, According to Novel Proteomics Analysis
A 500-year-old frozen Incan mummy suffered from a bacterial lung infection at the time of its death, as revealed by a novel proteomics method that shows evidence of an active pathogenic infection in an ancient sample for the first time.
The full report is published July 25 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
Detecting diseases in ancient remains is often fraught with difficulty, especially because of contamination. Techniques based on microbe DNA can easily be confused by environmental contamination, and they can only confirm that the pathogen was present, not that the person was infected, but the researchers behind the study, led by Angelique Corthals of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, found a way around this problem. They used proteomics, focusing on protein rather than DNA remains, to profile immune system response from degraded samples taken from 500 year-old mummies.
“Pathogen detection in ancient tissues isn’t new, but until now it’s been impossible to say whether the infectious agent was latent or active,” says Corthals. “Our technique opens a new door to solving some of history’s biggest mysteries, such as the reasons why the flu of 1918 was so devastating. It will also enhance our understanding of our future’s greatest threats, such as the emergence of new infectious agents or re-emergence of known infectious diseases.”