Preprint version. Published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Volume 112, Issue 3, July 1, 2000, pages 297-309.
Copyright © 2000 Wiley-Blackwell. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of an article published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1002/1096-8644(200007)112:3<297::AID-AJPA2>3.0.CO;2-0.
The male human body found in an Alpine glacier on September 19, 1991 ("Tyrolean Iceman") has, for the first time in history, given scientists a chance to perform detailed anatomical, histological, and molecular investigations on the organs of a person from the Neolithic Age (5350-5100 B.P.). In the present study, tissue samples aseptically taken from the stomach and the colon of the mummy were utilized for DNA extraction, and the DNA was PCR-amplified, using primer pairs designed to bind to fragments of the 16s ribosomal RNA gene (16s rDNA) of a broad range of bacteria. The PCR products were cloned in plasmid vectors, and the recombinant clones (amplicons) were sequenced. The sequence data were finally used for scanning data libraries containing the corresponding sequences of present-day bacteria, to infer the putative ecophysiology of the ancient ones. The same procedure was repeated on some fragments of grass from the clothing found near the corpse. These fragments were taken as a control of the microbiological situation of the glacier. The results show that the flora of the Iceman's stomach is entirely composed of Burkholderia pickettii, an organism commonly found in aquatic habitats. The colon, on the other hand, contains several members of the fecal flora of humans, such as Clostridium perfringens, C. ghonii, C. sordellii, Eubacterium tenue, and Bacteroides sp. The Iceman's colon, however, was found to contain, rather unexpectedly, also some members of the genus Vibrio. The results are discussed in light of what is known about the preservation of microbial DNA at the Iceman's site and of previous parasitological studies performed on the Iceman himself and on human coprolites.