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Experts Say DNA Study Of Atacama 'Alien' Mummy Is Flawed And Unethical

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Stanford University researchers earlier conducted a DNA analysis to determine the nature of a mysterious mummy found in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Atacama Alien Mummy

The Atacama mummy, also known as Ata, was discovered about 15 years ago. The specimen measures about 6 inches long with a missing pair of ribs and a highly deformed head and face. It was suspected to be of alien origin because of its bizarre appearance.

Garry Nolan, an immunologist at the Stanford University, and colleagues concluded in a 2013 study that the remains belonged to a human.

In a follow-up study, which was published in the journal Genome Research in March, the researchers conducted a whole-genome sequence analysis of the specimen's DNA.

They concluded that Ata was a female of Chilean descent and was a developing fetus at the time of her death. Nolan and colleagues reported that she likely suffered from a rare bone-aging disorder. They also suggested that a series of genetic mutations were behind her strange features.

Flawed And Unethical

Another team of experts, however, raises questions regarding the methods and conclusions of the DNA study.

In a paper published in the International Journal of Paleopathology on July 18, Sian Halcrow, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, and colleagues said that they could not find evidence of skeletal anomalies that the earlier Genome study suggested to be responsible for the bizarre features of the mummy.

The researchers argued that many of the paper's conclusions were replete with a misunderstanding of fetal development.

Halcrow and colleagues said that the fetus looked normal for its age, which is estimated to be around 15 weeks, despite its odd appearance. They also said that the elongated cranium could be due to geological and birth processes that affected the skeleton.

The team likewise said that the genetic study should not have been conducted in the first place, adding that the DNA extraction techniques that Nolan and colleagues used caused damage to Ata's body.

Halcrow and colleagues also said that the Stanford scientists did not follow the proper protocols for studying human remains, as protected by laws in many countries including Chile.

"There was no scientific rationale to undertake genomic analyses of Ata because the skeleton is normal, the identified genetic mutations are possibly coincidental, and none of them are known to be strongly associated with skeletal dysplasias," Halcrow and colleagues wrote. "In the case of Ata, costly and time-consuming scientific testing using whole genome techniques was unnecessary and unethical."

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