The researchers did find an accumulation of malformations in Tutankhamun's family. "Several pathologies including Kohler disease II [bone disorder] were diagnosed in Tutankhamun; none alone would have caused death. Genetic testing for STEVOR, AMA1, or MSP1 genes specific for Plasmodium falciparum [the malaria parasite] revealed indications of malaria tropica in 4 mummies, including Tutankhamun's. These results suggest avascular bone necrosis [condition in which the poor blood supply to the bone leads to weakening or destruction of an area of bone] in conjunction with the malarial infection as the most likely cause of death in Tutankhamun. Walking impairment and malarial disease sustained by Tutankhamun is supported by the discovery of canes and an afterlife pharmacy in his tomb," the authors write. They add that a sudden leg fracture, possibly from a fall, might have resulted in a life-threatening condition when a malaria infection occurred.
"In conclusion, this study suggests a new approach to research into the molecular genealogy and pathogen paleogenomics of the Pharaonic era. With additional data, a scientific discipline called molecular Egyptology might be established and consolidated, thereby merging natural sciences, life sciences, cultural sciences, humanities, medicine, and other fields."
(JAMA. 2010;303:638-647. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org)
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