Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

RNA sequencing of 750-year-old barley virus sheds new light on the Crusades

Date:
February 6, 2014
Source:
University of Warwick
Summary:
Scientists have for the first time sequenced an ancient RNA genome -- of a barley virus once believed to be only 150 years old -- pushing its origin back at least 2,000 years and revealing how intense farming at the time of the Crusades contributed to its spread.

Dr Robin Allaby of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, who led the study, said: “It is important to know as much as we can about virus evolution as emerging infectious plant diseases are a growing threat to global food security, and of those viruses account for almost half.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Warwick

Scientists have for the first time sequenced an ancient RNA genome -- of a barley virus once believed to be only 150 years old -- pushing its origin back at least 2,000 years and revealing how intense farming at the time of the Crusades contributed to its spread.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have detected and sequenced the RNA genome of Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus (BSMV) in a 750-year-old barley grain found at a site near the River Nile in modern-day Egypt. Their study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This new find challenges current beliefs about the age of the BSMV virus, which was first discovered in 1950 with the earliest record of symptoms just 100 years ago.

Although ancient DNA genomes have been sequenced before, ancient RNA genomes have not been as RNA breaks down more rapidly than DNA -- generally around 50 times as fast.

However in extremely dry conditions, such as those at the site in Qasr Ibrim in Lower Nubia where the barley was found, RNA can be better preserved and this has allowed the scientists to successfully sequence its genome.

Using the new medieval RNA to calibrate estimates of the rate of mutations, the researchers were able to trace the evolution of the Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus to a probable origin of around 2,000 years ago, but potentially much further back to the domestication of barley in the Near East around 11,000 years ago.

BSMV is transmitted through seed-to-seed contact so it is likely to originally have been transferred from the wild grass population to an early cultivated form of barley while the seeds were stored.

Dr Robin Allaby of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, who led the study, said: "It is important to know as much as we can about virus evolution as emerging infectious plant diseases are a growing threat to global food security, and of those viruses account for almost half.

"History tells us about the devastation caused by the emergence of disease from wild hosts in disparate countries, such as the Central American origin of the oomycete that led to the Irish potato famine.

"We need to build up an accurate picture of the evolution of different types of virus so we can make better decisions about policies on plant movement.

"The medieval RNA from Qasr Ibrim gives us a vital clue to unlock the real age of the Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus.

"It is very difficult to understand how a plant disease evolved by solely relying on recent samples, however this 750-year-old example of the virus allows us to more accurately estimate its evolution rates and date of origin.

"Without the Medieval RNA evidence, the virus appears to be much younger than it actually is, when in fact its origins go back thousands of years.

"It's possible that other viruses that similarly appear to be very recent may in fact have a more ancient origin."

The researchers believe that the Medieval BSMV genome came from a time of rapid expansion of the plant disease in the Near East and Europe.

This coincided with the tumult of the Crusades which saw the Christian lands of Europe take arms against the Muslim territories of the Near East with their sights set on the city of Jerusalem. The seventh Crusade of Louis IX in 1234 is the most closely aligned in date to the origin of the virus expansion.

The researchers believe the massive war effort could have caused the virus to spread, fuelled by an intensification of farming in order to feed the armies engaged in the campaign.

This made contact with cultivated barley and wild grass more likely, providing opportunities for the virus to 'jump' into the crop.

Genetic evidence also points to a split into an east and west BSMV lineage around the end of the 15th century, around 100 years after the Mongol Empire stabilised the Silk Road. It is likely that BSMV was transported to the east via trade routes such as the Silk Road in the late Medieval period.

In more recent history, the virus appears to have spread to the US from Europe around 120-150 years ago.

The research was supported by the research funding body BBSRC.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Warwick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Oliver Smith, Alan Clapham, Pam Rose, Yuan Liu, Jun Wang, Robin G. Allaby. A complete ancient RNA genome: identification, reconstruction and evolutionary history of archaeological Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus. Scientific Reports, 2014; 4 DOI: 10.1038/srep04003

Cite This Page:

University of Warwick. "RNA sequencing of 750-year-old barley virus sheds new light on the Crusades." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206111332.htm>.
University of Warwick. (2014, February 6). RNA sequencing of 750-year-old barley virus sheds new light on the Crusades. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206111332.htm
University of Warwick. "RNA sequencing of 750-year-old barley virus sheds new light on the Crusades." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206111332.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A couple found love letters from World War I in their attic. They were able to deliver them to relatives of the writer of those letters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) Explicit Chinese art works dating back centuries go on display in Hong Kong, revealing China's ancient relationship with sex. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) Parisians and local historians are fighting to save one of the French capital's iconic buildings, the La Samaritaine department store. Duration: 01:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bee Fossils Provide Insight Into Ice Age Environment

Bee Fossils Provide Insight Into Ice Age Environment

Newsy (Apr. 12, 2014) Archeologists have found many fossils in the La Brea Tar Pits, including those of saber-tooth tigers and mammoths. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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