The Saga of King Tut's Genes
March 10, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

In February 2008, Yehia Gad sequenced Tutankhamun's genes in front of a documentary crew from the Discovery Channel. Jo Marchant writes about the previous work studying his tomb and remians and the unfortunate timing of the last study. (King Tut Previously)

As Marchant reports, the sequencing of DNA that had been baking underneath the Egyptian sands for millennia has significant scientific hurdles. The method that Gad used to sequence Tutankhamun, PCR, is very vulnerable to outside contamination, especially given the amount that his mummy had been handled by modern day people. However, given the recent sequencing of mummy Cat DNA, once they can begin testing again, things do look promising for the future.
posted by Hactar (12 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Mummy cats? Mummy cat.
posted by cell divide at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2014

Came to the link for King Tut, but stayed for the cats...even mummy cats are adorable...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:11 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mummy cats?

Please remember to spay and neuter.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:22 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

For many Egyptians, the idea that their most famous kings could share some common heritage with their enemies is a hard one to cope with.

Oh come on. In Europe this is a way of life.
posted by three blind mice at 12:28 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please remember to spay and neuter.

And then place the organs in a tiny sack that you will later sew up into the abdominal cavity of said cat.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:40 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh come on. In Europe this is a way of life.

It ain't just Europeans!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:43 PM on March 10, 2014

The technique promises a far more intimate picture of the pharaohs. If used on Tutankhamun, it would retrieve DNA not just from the king himself but from all of the other organisms associated with his mummy; everything from the contents of his stomach, to the plant products used by his embalmers, to the infections he carried. Gad and his colleagues call it the “ancient Egyptian meta-genome.”
This would be phenomenal and useful for studying a much broader range of Egyptian lives than just the pharaonic side. I wish, however, that Discovery had never become so into the concept of shows that are basically CSI: Archaeology, however great their investment into the museum and the Egyptian archaeological community was. Fast science is rarely good science, and that includes archaeology. I am constantly asked kind of angrily why we can't simply DNA test every specimen and give real answers about their heritage, which is really part of a bigger conversation about the ramifications around ethics, repatriation, budgets, and the simple limits of existing technology. If this newer technique pans out, that would be a really excellent thing for collections around the world, especially since contamination of specimens is such a big issue for tests like this one.

(Also, I could be wrong on this, but I thought the evidence that sibling or half-sibling marital relationships for pharaohs in Egypt were common was pretty solid, long before this?)

As a side note, I first learned about Ikram's work in a blurb in Archaeology Magazine, which mentioned (I think) issues around exploding bunny mummies. Exploding bunny mummies.I had just gotten into her alma mater for archaeology, and realized I was going to the right place.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:55 PM on March 10, 2014

Exploding bunny mummies

but but but I don't want a new username
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:00 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Egypt has waged several wars with Israel in recent history, and lost most of them, with territories like the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula falling under Tel Aviv’s control.
News flash. Tel Aviv is not the capital of Israel.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:51 PM on March 10, 2014

Mummy cats?

Please remember to spay and neuter.

I got two of my cats from an outdoor cat I first called Mommy Cat...thought she was feral until I found out she had owners who did not follow said sage advice...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:57 PM on March 10, 2014

Mummy cheese!
posted by homunculus at 11:24 PM on March 10, 2014

Jo Marchant's book about the Antikythera mechanism Decoding the Heavens was a great read. Looking forward to her tale on this topic, Shadow King. Thanks for the tip!
posted by Twang at 11:25 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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