Tracing hepatitis B virus to the 16th century in a Korean mummy


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • The study in Israel was partially funded by the Liver Unit and the Hadassah-Hebrew University Salzberg family endowment for research of hepatocellular carcinoma and the Deutsche Forschung Gemeinschaft (DFG). The study in Korea was supported by a grant (NRICH-1107-BO9F) from the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, Korea.


A rare find of a mummified child from the 16th century AD, in Korea, with relatively preserved organs, enabled a search for ancient hepatitis B virus (aHBV) DNA sequences from laparoscopic-derived liver biopsies. Analysis of the complete aHBV genome (3,215 base pairs) revealed a unique HBV genotype C2 (HBV/C2) sequence commonly spread in Southeast Asia, which probably represents an HBV that infected the Joseon Dynasty population in Korea. Comparison of the aHBV sequences with contemporary HBV/C2 DNA sequences revealed distinctive differences along four open reading frames. Genetic diversity between contemporary and recovered aHBV/C2 DNA may be the result of immunologic, environmental, and/or pharmacologic pressures. The calculated time of most recent common ancestor suggests that the Korean HBV sequence origin dates back at least 3,000 years and possibly as long as 100,000 years. This isolate most likely represents the earliest human HBV sequence that colonized Southeast Asia by human migration. Conclusion: This study describes the complete sequence of the oldest HBV isolate and the most ancient full viral genome known so far. (HEPATOLOGY 2012;56:1671–1680)