Tuberculosis genomes recovered from 200-year old Hungarian mummy

Date:

Share post:

Researchers at the University of Warwick have recovered tuberculosis (TB) genomes from the lung tissue of a 215-year old mummy using a technique known as metagenomics.

Tuberculosis genomes recovered from 200-year old Hungarian mummy
Using a technique known as metagenomics, researchers were able to recover tuberculosis genomes
the lung tissue of an 18th-century Hungarian mummy [Credit: WikiCommons]

The team, led by Professor Mark Pallen, Professor of Microbial Genomics at Warwick Medical School, working with Helen Donoghue at University College London and collaborators in Birmingham and Budapest, sought to use the technique to identify TB DNA in a historical specimen.

The term ‘metagenomics’ is used to describe the open-ended sequencing of DNA from samples without the need for culture or target-specific amplification or enrichment. This approach avoids the complex and unreliable workflows associated with culture of bacteria or amplification of DNA and draws on the remarkable throughput and ease of use of modern sequencing approaches.

The sample came from a Hungarian woman, Terézia Hausmann, who died aged 28 on 25 December 1797. Her mummified remains were recovered from a crypt in the town of Vác, Hungary. When the crypt was opened in 1994, it was found to contain the naturally mummified bodies of 242 people. Molecular analyses of the chest sample in a previous study confirmed the diagnosis of tuberculosis and hinted that TB DNA was extremely well preserved in her body.

Professor Pallen explained the importance of the breakthrough, “Most other attempts to recover DNA sequences from historical or ancient samples have suffered from the risk of contamination, because they rely on amplification of DNA in the laboratory, plus they have required onerous optimisation of target-specific assays. The beauty of metagenomics is that it provides a simple but highly informative, assumption-free, one-size-fits-all approach that works in a wide variety of contexts. A few months ago we showed that metagenomics allowed us to identify an E. coli outbreak strains from faecal samples and a few weeks ago a similar approach was shown by another group to deliver a leprosy genome from historical material.”

The research, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that Terézia Hausmann suffered from a mixed infection with two different strains of the TB bacterium. This information, combined with work on contemporary tuberculosis, highlights the significance of mixed-strain infections, particularly when tuberculosis is highly prevalent.

Professor Pallen added, “It was fascinating to see the similarities between the TB genome sequences we recovered and the genome of a recent outbreak strain in Germany. It shows once more that using metagenomics can be remarkably effective in tracking the evolution and spread of microbes without the need for culture — in this case, metagenomes revealed that some strain lineages have been circulating in Europe for more than two centuries.”

Source: University of Warwick [July 19, 2013]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Stars ancient and modern?

A colourful new view of the globular star cluster NGC 6362 was captured by the Wide Field Imager...

Hubble sees a spiral home to exploding stars

In this  Hubble image, we can see an almost face-on view of the galaxy NGC 1084. At first...

Hoard of silver medieval coins found in Greece

Archaeologists in Greece have found over fifty Venetian silver coins dating to the 14th century AD, hidden in...

New satellite image database maps the dynamics of human presence on Earth

Built-up areas on Earth have increased by 2.5 times since 1975. And yet, today 7.3 billion people live...

Hunter-gatherers had a taste for spice

Our early ancestors had a taste for spicy food, new research led by the University of York has...

Evolution makes invading species spread even faster

Today, invasive animals and plants spread all around the globe. Predicting the dynamics of these invasions is of...

More ‘losers’ than ‘winners’ predicted for Southern Ocean seafloor animals

A new study of the marine invertebrates living in the seas around Antarctica reveals there will be more...

Largest dinosaur population growth study ever shows how Maiasaura lived and died

Decades of research on Montana's state fossil -- the "good mother lizard" Maiasaura peeblesorum -- has resulted in...