The Atacama Mummy is Not an Alien

The Atacama Mummy is not an alien, as it was once purported to be, but it's not a fake, either. The tiny skin-covered skeleton is only 6 inches long. It was discovered in a small deserted town in the Atacama Desert in Chile in 2003. Experts who studied the mummy found it to be human, but were confused by test results. The bone density is that of a 6-year-old child, but how could a 6-inch body survive that long? Gene sequencing had now yielded some results.

According to the new analysis, Ata was a human girl of Chilean descent. And indeed, she was very likely still a developing fetus when she died, even though she exhibited the bone composition of a six-year old child. The reason for this, claim the researchers, is that Ata suffered from a rare bone-aging disorder. In total, the researchers identified mutations in at least seven genes that, either separately or in tandem, contributed to Ata’s odd physical characteristics, including facial malformations, bone deformities, and apparent dwarfism (known as skeletal dysplasia). Some of the genes analyzed in the study were already known to cause disease, but this is the first time that some of the mutations were linked to abnormal bone growth or other developmental problems.

Scientists were astonished at how many different genes in the mummy showed mutations. The implications for medicine may mean that health issues could be caused by more than one gene anomaly. Read more about the Atacama Mummy at Gizmodo.

(Image credit: Dr. Emery Smith)


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