New DNA sequencing technology is giving us a first glimpse at what ancient men looked like — before they were mummies.
Genetic researchers have revealed highly detailed three-dimensional renderings of the faces of three Egyptian men who lived more than 2,000 years ago, using DNA pulled from their mummified remains.
The digital reconstructions show the men at age 25, who were unearthed in the vicinity of the ancient Egyptian city of Abusir el-Meleq, in the south of Cairo. Scientists estimate the men were each buried sometime between 1380 B.C. and A.D. 425, Live Science has reported. Their DNA was previously sequenced in 2017 at the Max Planck institute in Germany — at the time, the first successful reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy’s genome in history.
Since then, researchers at Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Virginia have used forensic DNA phenotyping to create 3D models of the men’s faces, a process by which genetic data is used to predict facial features and other physical characteristics of the sampled mummy.
“This is the first time comprehensive DNA phenotyping has been performed on human DNA of this age,” Parabon said in a statement.
The lab used a combination of efforts to reconstruct the faces. Some features, including skin and eye color, can be predicted via genetic markers in the individual’s genome, while others are measured through what’s left of their physical remains.
Parabon’s methods revealed that the men had light brown skin with dark eyes and hair, and that the men were more genetically similar to modern-day Mediterranean populations than that of Egypt today.
Their process had to account for the fact that human DNA degrades over time, and is likely to be contaminated by bacterial DNA. In this case, researchers use genetic commonalities between human populations to fill in the gaps of their mummy genome.
Researchers see that this process could eventually be used in contemporary forensics, in order to identify more recent remains of unknown individuals.
Parabon’s work in genetics has already been used to crack 175 cold cases, including nine solved using the methods described in the current study, they told Live Science.
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