HomeScience and ResearchScientific ResearchScientists Have Sequenced First Ancient DNA From Pompeiian Human Remains

Scientists Have Sequenced First Ancient DNA From Pompeiian Human Remains

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In a paper published today in Scientific Reports, researchers offer the first successfully sequenced human genome from a person who died in Pompeii, Italy, in 79 CE, following the explosion of Mount Vesuvius.

Before this, scientists had only sequenced short pieces of mitochondrial DNA from human and animal bones found in Pompeii.

Gabriele Scorrano and colleagues studied and extracted DNA from the remains of two individuals discovered in Pompeii’s House of the Craftsman.

The bones’ shape, structure, and length suggested that one set of remains belonged to a male between the ages of 35 and 40 at the time of his death, while the other set belonged to a female over the age of 50.

The authors were able to extract and sequence ancient DNA from both individuals, but due to gaps in the sequences retrieved from the female’s bones, they were only able to read the whole genome from the male’s remains.

Comparing the male’s DNA to that of 1,030 ancient and 471 present western Eurasian individuals revealed that his DNA was most comparable to that of modern central Italians and other Italians who lived under the Roman Empire.

However, examinations of the mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA of the male individual identified sets of genes that are typically found among those from the island of Sardinia, but not among other people who resided in Italy during the time of the Roman Empire.

This raises the possibility that the Italian Peninsula had a high level of genetic diversity at the time.

More tests on the male’s skeleton and DNA found lesions in one of the vertebrae and DNA sequences that are often found in Mycobacterium, which is the group of bacteria that Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a part of. This shows tuberculosis may have been a factor in the death of the individual.

The authors suggest that the pyroclastic materials generated during the eruption may have given protection from DNA-degrading environmental variables such as air oxygen, making it feasible to successfully retrieve ancient DNA from the male individual’s bones.

The findings show that Pompeiian human remains can yield ancient DNA that can shed light on the genetic history and lives of Pompeiian people, they said.

Image Credit: Getty

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