News / Health

Airport Screening Technology Could Unlock Mummy Secrets

Preserved bodies help doctors understand diseases that have plagued humans for thousands of years

Scientists say looking back can help them look forward, by revealing how the disease evolved over time.
Scientists say looking back can help them look forward, by revealing how the disease evolved over time.

Multimedia

Audio

Back in 2005, when Frank Ruhli was trying to figure out how ancient Egypt's famous boy pharaoh, King Tut, died, he used CT scans of Tut's mummified remains. Now, says the renowned mummy expert, the new technology to screen some airline passengers for explosives can provide even more information.

"By applying this technology on top of another technology, it may help you to look differently at the specimen," he explains, adding that the Terahertz imaging - also known as "full body scan" technology - does not use any sort of radiation, which could destroy DNA remnants of the mummies.

"And finally, by using this Terahertz imaging, you eventually may be able to look at the substances within the mummy, for example, the embalming liquid used in the Egyptian way of embalming. There you can actually do sort of substance analysis which you can't really do by conventional x-ray."

Ruhli and his team of researchers at the Swiss Mummy Institute have just completed the first feasibility study of how they could use the technology to reveal a mummy's secrets, without damaging the mummy. He says the images they have gathered with the terahertz scans are very promising.

And he says the results are not just interesting for historians. "More and more, there are actually people aware of the fact if we want to know more about medicine or actually how to treat patients with all these health care issues, we have to look to the past as well."

Many mummies, from many times and places

The most famous mummies are the Egyptian ones, which were carefully dried out with salts, treated with oils and resins and wrapped in linen before being placed in a coffin.

But there are mummies from every historical era, from everywhere in the world. Ruhli explains that these so-called natural mummies were preserved accidentally. "There are different conditions which actually can lead to natural mummification. It's usually a combination of temperature, even air flow. Even in modern times, you can find people in apartments laying there for ten years after death and been mummified because of a specific airflow and temperature which supported the mummification procedure."

However it happens, the mummification process preserves the body's soft tissue long after it would normally have decomposed ... and with it, the virus or bacteria that may have caused the person to die.

Ruhli, who is a medical doctor as well as a paleo-pathologist, says looking back can help scientists look forward, by revealing how the disease evolved over time.

New technology spotlights direction of disease

They can even map a pathogen's genetic code, which changes from generation to generation.

Ruhli notes researchers used that technique to study the evolution of the tuberculosis bacteria from 2,000-year-old mummified tissue to modern-day strains. And scientists have done similar research on the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

"The fact that tissue was preserved for more than a few decades helps us to learn more about past disease and actually eventually help to avoid these kinds of diseases in the future," he says, noting that as doctors grapple with the H1N1 flu pandemic, studies like these could prove very useful.

Ruhli says such research could never replace modern clinical studies. But he says taking the long view can help provide insights scientists might miss in a snapshot from a single moment in time.

Ruhli presented his case for the value of mummies for modern medical research to scientists and doctors at the annual meeting of the American Association of Anatomists.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs