Mummy reveals hepatitis origins

May 29, 2012 at 5:40 PM
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SEOUL, May 29 (UPI) -- Researchers say an ancient mummified Korean child with relatively preserved organs enabled them to identify a unique hepatitis virus common in Southeast Asia.

An Israeli-South Korean scientific team said a genetic analysis on a liver biopsy from the 16th century mummified boy revealed a unique hepatitis B virus genotype C2 sequence common in the region.

The findings may yield clues to the evolution of the chronic virus and its possible spread from Africa to East-Asia and into Korea and other regions in Asia and Australia where it is a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer, a release from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported Tuesday.

Researchers said the viral DNA sequences recovered from the liver biopsy allowed them to map the entire ancient hepatitis B viral genome.

Observed mutation rates over time suggest that the reconstructed mummy's hepatitis B virus DNA had its origin between 3,000 to 100,000 years ago, they said.

There are over 400 million carriers of the virus worldwide, predominantly in Africa, China and South Korea, the World Health Organization said.

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