Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Searching for an ancient syphilis DNA in newborns

Date:
July 3, 2012
Source:
Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona
Summary:
The ancient bones of newborns are very useful to recover the ancient DNA of the bacteria causing syphilis, the Treponema pallidum pallidum. Scientists were able to obtain the genetic material from the bacteria in more than one individual, in what is considered to be the oldest case known to date. Several previous attempts had only achieved to yield this material in one occasion and from only one individual.

Left femur, two right humerus and a right hemifrontal bone belonging to at least two newborns found at "La Ermita de la Soledad" in Huelva. All show signs of bone lesions diagnosed as congenital syphilis.
Credit: Image courtesy of Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona

Ancient DNA of the bacteria causing syphilis, the Treponema pallidum pallidum, can be recovered from the ancient bones of newborns. This is the conclusion reached by a study led by Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona (UAB), which was able to obtain the genetic material from the bacteria in more than one individual, in what is considered to be the oldest case known to date. Several previous attempots had only yielded this material in one occasion and from only one individual.

Related Articles


Studying syphilis represents a challenge for researchers, in part because of the impossibility of using or genetically manipulating cell cultures, given that the subspecies of T. pallidum cannot be differentiated morphologically using immunofluorescence or electron microscopes. This makes diagnosis extremely difficult and complicates epidemiological and phylogenetic analyses. In contrast, molecular typification has be shown to be a useful method with which to detect some of these subspecies, such as the one affecting humans, T.pallidum pallidum.

Palaeopathology - the science that studies diseases in ancient human remains - benefits from these molecular techniques to identify specific varieties of ancient syphilis and generate information that is useful for the phylogenetic reconstruction of modern varieties. They additionally can help to discover the historical development of the disease and its moment of origin in the continent -- a highly debated issue amongst scientists -- and its geographic distribution and epidemiology.

In this study, published in PLoS ONE and led by Assumpció Malgosa, professor of Physical Anthropology at UAB, researchers extracted the bacteria's DNA from four bone fragments of two newborns showing clear signs of having suffered from congenital syphilis. The remains were recovered from the crypt of “La Ermita de la Soledad” (16th–17th centuries), located in the province of Huelva in the northwest of Spain.

It is the first time this ancient bacteria has been obtained from more than one subject. Although researchers had tried extractions on several occasions, they were successful only once, with an adult individual dating some 200 years back. Although unable to pin down the exact year, researchers are convinced that the remains of the newborns in Huelva are of an earlier date.  That would make them the oldest finding reported until date in the detection of this bacteria's DNA.

The difference between this and previous studies lies in the fact that researchers were able to analyze the remains of newborns bearing clear signs of having suffered from congenital syphilis. “We believe the difficulty in obtaining ancient DNA bacteria from adults is due to the development of the disease in individuals. Recent studies indicate that newborns are more sensitive to bone damage in the first stages of the disease, due to a rapid dissemination in the skeleton of a high number of spirochetes, which after death would leave their DNA that would be preserved by its association to hydroxyapatite in bones. In the case of adults affected by venereal syphilis, the amount of bacteria in bones is reduced as the disease advances to later stages, making it very difficult to extract samples from the bones", explains Assumpció Malgosa.

Researchers' hypothesis was that the amount of bacteria in newborns is enough to guarantee the preservation of DNA and that the younger an individual affected by the disease, the greater the probability of amplifiable DNA preservation. “And now we have demonstrated it with this research,” Malgosa states.

She also considers worth noting that a number of studies have shown the presence of bone lesions in early syphilis, and this "opens up the possibility that affected skeletons of young adults, who died during the early stages of syphilis, might also contain amplifiable DNA. However, the doubt remains on how to identify those cases before attempting destructive analysis.”

The research represents “a huge step forward in the study of changes in the T.pallidum genome and how they affect individuals throughout history. With this information, inferences on the present and future of the disease can be very important,” concludes Assumpció Malgosa.

The study included the participation of researchers from the Unit of Anthropology of the Department of Animal and Plant Biology and Ecology at the UAB, of scientists from the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, Mexico, and the Centre for the Research of Natural Resources at the University of the Azores, Portugal.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona. "Searching for an ancient syphilis DNA in newborns." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120703120628.htm>.
Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona. (2012, July 3). Searching for an ancient syphilis DNA in newborns. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120703120628.htm
Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona. "Searching for an ancient syphilis DNA in newborns." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120703120628.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

AFP (Nov. 22, 2014) — Faces in an area of mosaics is the latest find by archaeologists at a recently discovered tomb dating back to fourth century BC and the time of Alexander the Great in Greece. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins