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Do Europeans share King Tut's DNA?

8 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 619

King Tutankhamun shares ancestors with more than 50 percent of Western European men, according to a personal genomics company in Switzerland.

The company, iGENEA, said it has reconstructed the Y chromosome profile of the Ancient Egyptian king based on data shown on a documentary made for the Discovery Channel. This information would put Tutankhamun in a genetic profile group called Rb1b1a2, to which many Europeans, but less than one percent of Egyptians belong.

'It was very interesting to discover that he belonged to a genetic group in Europe – there were many possible groups in Egypt that the DNA could have belonged to', said Roman Scholz, director of the iGENEA Centre.

The data, which appeared on a computer screen in the Discovery Channel documentary, was part of a study by Dr Carsten Pusch, a geneticist at the University of Tubingen in Germany. The group used genetic fingerprinting of Tutankhamun's DNA to identify his family lineage, as well as to suggest the cause of his death, in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010.

However, they did not publish all the Y-chromosome data, and according to a statement on the iGENEA website 'despite several demands, the results of the Y-DNA tests have been shut away'. Scholz claims that this data, which is only passed down through the male side of a family, was what appeared in the documentary.

If Tutankhamun does belong to the Rb1ba2 group this suggests he is descended from an ancestor who lived in the Black Sea region around 9,500 years ago. It is thought that this group migrated to Europe around 7,000 years ago with the spread of agriculture, but how some could have ended up in Egypt is unknown.

iGENEA has now launched the Tutankhamun DNA Project, offering a discount on your DNA profile if you turn out to be a close living, male relative of the king.

Dr Pusch is sceptical about the project. He wrote in an email to the website LiveScience, 'the Swiss company did not try to get into contact with us prior to launching their new Internet page', and that 'it appears that they try to better sell their DNA testing kit by using the media attention connected to King Tut'.

Half of European men share King Tut's DNA
Reuters |  1 April 2011
King Tut Related to Half of European Men? Maybe Not
Live Science |  3 August 2011
Most Euro men are related to King Tut
Metro |  1 August 2011
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