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Identifying old blood one corpuscle at a time

May 3, 2012

imageOne must wonder if there is some applicability to shroud studies. An interesting paper was published online, yesterday, May 2, 2012, by the Journal of the Royal Society: Interface, entitled Preservation of 5300 year old red blood cells in the Iceman by Marek Janko, Robert W. Stark and Albert Zink. It is not behind a pay wall. I noticed this:

One corpuscle with a structure likely to be a RBC [24] was found in the hand wound tissue of the Iceman (figure 1d), and two single corpuscles were detected within the arrowhead wound sample. Sample B furthermore showed an agglomeration of several randomly distributed particles (figure 1f ). The selected corpuscles exhibit a discoidal, concave surface with a diameter between 5.8 and 6.4 mm (figure 1d,e). The concave shape is typical for RBCs and arises during the early stages of development in the bone marrow when the cell nuclei are discarded, leaving behind an impression on the membrane.

James Owen writing in National Geographic Daily News puts it in simpler words I appreciate:

"There were no [blood] traces found, even when they opened some arteries [of the 5,300-year-old mummy], so it was thought maybe the blood had not preserved and had completely degraded, or that he lost too much blood because of the arrow injury" on his back, said team member Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy.

For the new investigation, scientists traced Ötzi’s wound areas—the arrow injury and a cut on his right hand—with a pioneering nano-size probe.

Each minute movement of the probe was recorded with a laser, "so you get a three-dimensional image of the sample in a very tiny scale," Zink explained.

The scans revealed classic "doughnut shape" red blood cells, the team reported Wednesday in the journal Interface.

[ . . . ]

The new nanotechnology, allied with an atomic force microscope, also uncovered traces of fibrin, a blood-clotting agent—evidence that the Iceman suffered a mercifully quick demise.

Image is from National Geographic

  1. Kelly Kearse
    May 3, 2012 at 5:59 am

    The saga of the iceman is an interesting case study in molecular forensics.

    There are some obvious differences: a fairly well-preserved body vs. a cloth that is thought to have once covered a body, but I think there is some applicability, particularly in regards to the methods and technological advances. Since the original STURP investigation in 1978, the field of nanotechnology has continued to grow, allowing studies to be conducted with greater sensitivity and much more detail.

    For the Iceman, sufficient intact DNA was available from the iceman for full genomic sequencing. These studies showed he was O-type blood, Rh positive; also, some other interesting characteristics (carrier of lyme disease, lactose intolerant, and had brown eyes). The images of the preserved red blood cells, and their detail, are quite remarkable. These were performed on sections taken from punch biopsies of the wound area using atomic force microscopy. In addition to microscopic data, some Raman spectra studies were shown in the paper, indicating the presence of fibrin.

    With the Shroud, one is dealing with bloodstains, not an actual wound or biopsy samples, but I think there’s applicability here. Baima-Bollone described what appeared to be red blood cells on bloodstained fibers of the Shroud using electron microscopy (Sindon Vol. 33 (1984); 9-14; also in the book, Sindon O No, Eds. Torino, IT (1990). Red blood cells have been reported previously in mummies using microscopy (Science 108, 303-304 (1973), Science 192, 374-375 (1976), and on prehistoric rock tools (Science 220, 1269-1270 (1983), although not with the clarity available in the Iceman studies.

    In bloodstains, as blood dries red blood cells dehydrate, similar to a tire going flat. What is most likely being visualized in such samples are aged blood cells that have resealed with each other during the preparation procedure, representing reconstituted cells, not intact red blood cells that have survived over large periods of time. Because of their distinct biconcave, disc-like shape, red blood cells may be identified microscopically with relative confidence. The new Iceman studies help to take this to another level.

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