NA fingerprinting has become a major forensic tool for the police and the FBI. Now an advanced technique of ancient DNA analysis developed at Emory's Center for Molecular Medicine may help answer one of Egypt's oldest questions: Where is the mummified body of Ramesses I, who founded the Ramesside dynasty more than 3,000 years ago?
It could be one of 10 mummies recently acquired by Emory's Carlos Museum and now wrapped in archival plastic in a climate-controlled storeroom on campus. The mummies arrived in May from the Niagara Falls Museum in Canada along with nine coffins, including the one pictured here. What may be the only royal mummy outside Egypt was not in a coffin.
The answers to the whereabouts of the long-lost Egyptian patriarch may definitely be in the genes, believes Douglas Wallace, who heads the Center for Molecular Medicine and who has pioneered new technology to study human roots. Emory is one of the few places in the world with the expertise to even atttempt to use DNA to reconstruct human origins.
Over the next two years, Wallace and a specially assembled team will compare DNA samples. They'll probably extract it from either a back tooth or soft tissue just inside the abdominal cavities of the mummies, including the one whose arms are crossed in traditional royal style and who, in profile, bears a startling resemblance to Seti I, the son of Ramesses I.
The Emory geneticist hopes to compare the Y chromosomes from the mummies here with Seti I and grandson Ramesses II, both of whom are currently on view in the Royal Museum in Cairo. Wallace is also trying to get modern Egyptian samples of DNA.
The studies will be done in Wallace's "clean" lab in the General Clinical Research Center at Emory Hospital. "One of the problems is that we can't allow the specimen to be contaminated with modern DNA," says Wallace. "Since we want to do Y (male) chromosome analysis of DNA, mostly women will work with these specimens so that we can be confident that no normal modern Y chromosomes are involved." Chances of error are only one in 100,000 if the group finds a genetic match. Wallace hopes to complete the project by the end of next year.
The 10 mummies are also scheduled for CT scans and X-rays at Emory Hospital. These and other tests may eventually reveal how these ancient Egyptians lived, what illnesses they suffered from, and how they died.
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Web version by Jaime Henriquez.