U.S. scientists extracting 3,500-year-old DNA from ancient Egyptian mummies think they can reconstruct Tutankhamun's family tree, a British television program said Sunday.
The Channel Four documentary followed geneticist Scott Woodward and a team of experts from Brigham Young University in Utah as they dug up and analyzed the mummies, well-preserved by the dry Egyptian desert sands.They said they hoped to discover who King Tut's parents were and who his chief wife was.
"This is information that has been locked away for hundreds of generations now coming to light in these ancient people from Egypt," Woodward told Channel Four.
He said he already had genetic evidence of what historians have always believed - that the pharaohs married their own brothers and sisters to keep the blood "pure."
"From the samples that we have so far, which cover eight generations of the 18th dynasty, we see a very narrow gene pool - no evidence of marriage from outside the family by commoners," he said.
Woodward, who was one of the first scientists to find DNA in a dinosaur bone, said experts were still a long way off from cloning an ancient animal, as depicted in the science fiction hit film "Jurassic Park."
"Jurassic Park is very much still fiction," he said. "What we are able to do maybe in Pharaonic Park is take very small bits of genetic information from an ancient pharaoh that lived two to three thousand years ago and reconstruct that and find out a lot about that individual."
Woodward quickly added that it would not be possible to clone a pharaoh and bring him back to life. "No, we can't do that - that's not possible right now," he said.
"But we can tell a lot . . . about that individual by the little bits and pieces that we can reconstruct from these 3,500-year-old pieces of DNA."
DNA, the basic building block of life, carries a genetic code unique to every living thing. It is found in all living material, and sometimes in mummified remains.
"We like teeth - teeth are probably one of our best sources for ancient DNA," Woodward said, adding that teeth form a natural barrier against contamination by modern DNA.