The discovery of a mummified Korean child with relatively preserved organs enabled an Israeli-South Korean scientific team to conduct a genetic analysis on a liver biopsy, which revealed a unique hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype C2 sequence common in Southeast Asia.
Additional analysis of the ancient HBV genomes may be used as a model to study the evolution of chronic hepatitis B and help understand the spread of the virus, possibly from Africa to East-Asia. It also may shed further light on the migratory pathway of hepatitis B in the Far East from China and Japan to Korea, as well as to other regions in Asia and Australia where it is a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The reconstruction of the ancient hepatitis B virus genetic code is the oldest full viral genome described in the scientific literature to date. It was reported in the May 21, 2012, edition of the scientific journal Hepatology by a research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment; the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, the Hadassah Medical Center’s Liver Unit; Dankook University and Seoul National University in South Korea.
Carbon 14 tests of the clothing of the mummy suggest that the boy lived around the 16th century during the Korean Joseon Dynasty. The viral DNA sequences recovered from the liver biopsy enabled the scientists to map the entire ancient hepatitis B viral genome.