The diet of mummies

Next-generation sequencing helps to shed light on ancient human diets at the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies

Studying ancient DNA can reveal a lot of information about our distant ancestors. It can be used to investigate how ancient genomes compare to our own, but can also provide information about how people lived, what they ate, and sometimes even how they died.

The Institute for Mummy Studies, part of Eurac Research, is a leading European organization carrying out in-depth scientific studies of mummies and skeletons. Based in Bolzano, Italy, the institute extensively uses molecular methods such as DNA sequencing to find out more about mummies and their environments.

To get as much information as possible from the often limited sample material available the institute uses a range of different sequencing approaches. These include human whole genome sequencing (hWGS), but also, for example, epigenome sequencing to investigate aging and environmental factors, and shotgun metagenome sequencing to study diet and disease.

At Macrogen Europe, we are very pleased that we are able to make a small contribution to this important field of research with our sequencing services. Having worked with the Institute of Mummy Studies for almost 10 years, we’re excited to see their extensive scientific output – 2021 alone has already seen seven scientific papers where DNA sequencing helped to get to new insights!

For example, this paper uses metagenome shotgun sequencing to find out more about the diets of humans based on gut DNA. It found, among other things, that one Iron Age sample contained a high abundance of fungal DNA from Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both were involved in food fermentation and these findings provide the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption in Iron Age Europe.

We’re looking forward to seeing what the next ten years in mummy research – and in DNA sequencing – will bring!

To find out more about Macrogen Europe’s services for next-generation sequencing (NGS), Sanger sequencing and bioinformatics, please visit our services page or get in touch.