An international collaboration of scientists, featuring experts from South Korea and Israel, has recently analyzed liver samples collected from a 16th century mummy discovered in the Asian nation. The study revealed valuable new insights into a unique hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype C2 sequence.
This particular sequence is very common in southeastern Asia, and researchers have been trying to gain a deeper understanding of its origins for a long time. By studying well-preserved human remains that are more than 500 years old, it will soon become possible to analyze the virus in greater depth.
The mummified Korean child the team discovered possesses relatively intact and well-preserved organs, which is how the researchers were able to extract viable biological material from the mummy.
Investigators took a liver biopsy from the corpse, and then subjected it to modern medical tests. The data obtained in this manner may be used to create an in-depth model of how chronic hepatitis B co-evolved with our species, AlphaGalileo
More importantly, this information may reveal how the viral agent spread to Asia, possibly from Africa. In addition, scientists may uncover its local spread patterns, from China to Japan, and then to the Koreas. A migration to Australia might have followed soon thereafter.
In southeastern Asia and Oceania, this type of hepatitis B is one of the main causes of liver cancer and cirrhosis, in addition to other conditions affecting the human liver. Understanding it could lead to the development of therapies against these diseases, which could potentially save millions of lives.
The viral DNA that scientists recovered from the mummy's liver evolved between 3,000 and 100,000 years ago. These figures are based on the observed rate of mutation for this virus, a study technique that cannot yield too accurate results.
Details of the new investigation were published in the May 21 online issue of the esteemed scientific journal Hepathology. The young boy the mummy belongs to lived around the 16th century, during the Korean Joseon Dynasty.
The study was led by experts at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine and the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and the Hadassah Medical Center’s Liver Unit at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.
Experts from the Dankook University and Seoul National University in South Korea were also part of the international collaboration that conducted this study.