DNA taken from ancient Egyptian mummies provides an intriguing insight into what three men might have looked like when they hung in the Fertile Crescent more than 2,000 years ago.
The genetic gossip led to highly detailed 3D constructions of a trio from an ancient Nile community known as Abusir el-Meleq, estimated to have lived between 2,023 and 2,797 years ago.
The images are derived from DNA phenotyping, which predicts a person’s physical characteristics based on genetic data. The creations mark the first time extensive DNA phenotyping has been performed on human DNA as old, according to Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs, the company behind the images. Parabon typically knocks on DNA phenotyping to help resolve criminal cases.
The reconstructions show how the men could have looked at 25, the company’s standard age for facial predictions. At that time, “the face is mature, but not yet affected by aging,” says Ellen Greytak, Parabon’s director of bioinformatics. “When age can be estimated from the remains, we can take it into account, but in the absence of other information, we show them at 25.”
Parabon presented his mummy photos at the 32nd International Symposium on Human Identification, held earlier this month in Orlando, Florida. The conference focuses on advances in forensic science.
To recreate the faces of the three Egyptian men, the Parabon team turned to mummy DNA sequenced by researchers in Germany at the University of Tubingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
They then extracted single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are markers in the genome that correspond to specific human characteristics, such as eye and hair color and disease predisposition. They aligned the SNPs with the human genome to derive the most likely phenotype for each targeted SNP and searched their database of topics of known ancestry to humans with the closest genetic mix to the ancient Egyptians.
The researchers modeled the probable width, height and depth of the heads and facial features in 3D. A forensic artist took over from there and brought the beautiful hipsters to life.
Egypt in 700 BC. similar worlds and lifetimes away. But human DNA has not changed much in the last few thousand years, so scientists can compare ancient genomes with modern humans to determine which populations they are closest to.
Parabon’s forensic DNA phenotype system applies to accurately predict genetic ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckles, and face shape in humans from any ethnic background, even those with mixed ancestry.
“The challenge with old DNA is that human DNA is not only highly degraded, but there is also a lot of bacterial DNA,” Greytak explains. “Between these two factors, the amount of human DNA available for sequence can be very small. But for DNA phenotyping, we do not need the entire genome, we only need specific SNPs that encode physical differences between people. ”
When European researchersin 2017, they compared the data from the preserved bodies with those of today’s citizens and found that “modern Egyptians share more ancestry with sub-Saharan Africans than ancient Egyptians, while ancient Egyptians were found to be most closely related to ancient people from the Near East.”
The Parabon researchers agree with this assessment. All three mummies are predicted to have been freckle-free with light brown skin and dark eyes and hair. Any traces of fashion choices, such as probable facial hair, must, of course, come from the historical record.
It looks like the mummies have a moment. Earlier this year, researchers, and a . And last year of an Egyptian coffin opened for the first time in 2,500 years. The images of the three men go a long way toward personalizing such well-preserved bodies.
Greytak says, “This study was an exciting testament to how much we can learn about old people from their DNA.”
Hopefully we will see more mummy faces revealed.