Ancient human DNA found in ‘nit glue’, say scientists

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Hair lice may shed light on South America’s ancient populations  (AFP via Getty Images)
Hair lice may shed light on South America’s ancient populations (AFP via Getty Images)

Scientists say that ancient human DNA found in nit glue, the sticky substance produced by head lice to attach their eggs to hair, could help shed light on longstanding mysteries about what sort of people lived in South America 1,500-2,000 years ago.

The researchers, from the UK, Denmark and Argentina, analysed the remains of eight South American mummies, and extracted both ancient human nuclear DNA and mitochondrial lice DNA from the “nit cement” of two mummies.

The analysis showed the people had been part of a population that migrated from northwest Amazonia to the Andes of central-west Argentina 2,000 years ago or earlier. This confirmed previous theories.

Mikkel Pedersen, of the University of Copenhagen, one author of the research, said: “We know quite a lot about Europe and east Asia from ancient genetics, but America still seems to be quite a blank spot. This is one of the places we really want to try to see if we can get some genetic information about what’s going on in the past, who was there, and also filling in that blank spot.”

Alejandra Perotti, of the University of Reading, who led the research, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, said a benefit of the technique was that it avoided damaging or destroying unique ancient bone and teeth specimens.

The scientists said the nit glue yielded as much human DNA as a tooth and twice that in the petrous bone of the skull.

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