King Tut didn't die of malaria, say experts

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London, Feb 17 (ANI): Experts have challenged a research team's findings on the Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun that he had died because of malaria.

Just a few days back, a research team had claimed to have solved the mystery surrounding the death of King Tut.

Imaging results in their report indicated that Tutankhamun had osteonecrosis of two metatarsal bones in one foot, and DNA evidence suggests that he was infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

The team behind the work, led by Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, thinks that King Tut may have weakened and died from some combination of these conditions - especially considering that he also had a fractured leg, an injury perhaps sustained as a result of his foot problems.

But, according to a report in Nature News, some outside experts are skeptical, saying that the research's conclusions overstep its data.

"The paper is of importance since it deals with the most famous of Egyptian mummies. However, most of the results are predictable," said Frank Ruhli of the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and joint head of the Swiss Mummy Project.

Experts argue that finding evidence of malaria is unsurprising, given that the parasite was probably common in Egypt at the time.

Moreover, in malarious regions, people who survive the disease in childhood often acquire partial immunity that protects them against full-blown malaria later in life.

The lack of internal organs in mummies makes a definitive diagnosis impossible.

"No data are available to assess that malaria was the cause of death," said Giuseppe Novelli, head of the medical genetics lab at Tor Vergata University of Rome.

The researchers also believe that the malaria finding is "the oldest genetic proof for malaria in precisely dated mummies".

Experts say this is no big deal, however, as mummies thought to be from this period and earlier have already been shown to have had P. falciparum malaria.

Moreover, changes in the human genome that have been attributed to malaria's influence show that the disease has been around since ancient times.

"We will never be able to prove he died from malaria," admitted co-author Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at EURAC (European Academy Bozen/Bolzano) in Bolzano, Italy.

Zink said that he is sure of the osteonecrosis diagnosis, arguing that new bone growth in reaction to the necrosis shows that it occurred before death.

"Osteonecrosis alone is not fatal but could have been a contributing factor to King Tut's demise," he said. (ANI)

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