Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Microbial Pompeii:' 1,000-year-old plaque preserves bacteria, microscopic particles of food on skeleton teeth

Date:
February 23, 2014
Source:
University of York
Summary:
A ‘microbial Pompeii’ has been discovered, preserved on the teeth of skeletons around 1,000 years old. The research team discovered that the ancient human oral cavity carries numerous opportunistic pathogens and that periodontal disease is caused by the same bacteria today as in the past, despite major changes in human diet and hygiene. “The study of ancient microbiomes helps us understand the evolutionary history of human health and disease," says a senior author of the study. “It informs modern medicine.”

Fossilized dental plaque (calculus) on the teeth of a middle-aged man from the Medieval site of Dalheim, Germany, ca. AD 1100
Credit: Christina Warinner

An international team of researchers have discovered a ‘microbial Pompeii’ preserved on the teeth of skeletons around 1,000 years old. The key to the discovery is the dental calculus (plaque) which preserves bacteria and microscopic particles of food on the surfaces of teeth, effectively creating a mineral tomb for microbiomes.

Related Articles


The research team discovered that the ancient human oral cavity carries numerous opportunistic pathogens and that periodontal disease is caused by the same bacteria today as in the past, despite major changes in human diet and hygiene.

The researchers discovered that the ancient human oral microbiome already contained the basic genetic machinery for antibiotic resistance more than eight centuries before the invention of the first therapeutic antibiotics in the 1940s. As well as health information, the scientists recovered dietary DNA from ancient dental calculus, allowing the identification of dietary components, such as vegetables, that leave few traces in the archaeological record.

Led by the University of Zürich, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of York, this pioneering analysis of ancient oral microbiome ecology and function involved the contributions of 32 scientists at twelve institutions in seven countries.

The research published in Nature Genetics reveals that unlike bone which rapidly loses much of its molecular information when buried, calculus grows slowly in the mouth and enters the soil in a much more stable state helping it to preserve biomolecules. This enabled the researchers, led by Dr Christina Warinner, to analyse ancient DNA that was not compromised by the burial environment.

They applied shotgun DNA sequencing to dental calculus for the first time. They reconstructed the genome of a major periodontal pathogen and produced possibly the first genetic evidence of dietary biomolecules to be recovered from ancient dental calculus.

Analyzing this wealth of data required overcoming the formidable bioinformatics challenge of sorting and identifying millions of genetic sequences like puzzle pieces in order to reconstruct the complex biology of the ancient oral microbiome. “Dental calculus is a window into the past and may well turn out to be one of the best-preserved records of human-associated microbes," says Professor Christian von Mering, an author of the study and Group Director at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, which performed the bioinformatics analysis

Professor Matthew Collins, of the University of York, said: “We knew that calculus preserved microscopic particles of food and other debris but the level of preservation of biomolecules is remarkable.  A microbiome entombed and preserved in a mineral matrix, a microbial Pompeii.”

Dr Warinner, of the University of Zurich and the University of Oklahoma, added: “Dental calculus acts both as a long-term reservoir of the oral microbiome and as a trap for dietary and environmental debris. This allows us to investigate health and disease, as well as reconstruct aspects of an individual’s life history and activities. Never before have we been able to retrieve so much information from one small sample.”

The study has wide reaching implications for understanding the evolution of the human oral microbiome and the origins of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease causes distinctive proteomic changes in the dentition and is characterized by chronic inflammation resulting in tooth and bone loss. Dr Enrico Cappellini of the University of Copenhagen, a senior author of the study, describes the dental calculus analyzed in this study as a kind of “battlefield archaeological site, just at the molecular scale.”

Today, moderate to severe periodontal disease affects more than 10% of the world’s population and is linked to diverse systemic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and type II diabetes. Although common in humans, domestic pets, and zoo animals, periodontal disease does not typically develop in wild animals, leading to speculation that it is an oral microbiome disease resulting from modern human lifestyles.

“As we learn more about the evolution of this microbiome in response to migration and changes in diet, health and medicine, I can imagine a future in which most archaeologists regard calculus as more interesting than the teeth themselves,” says Professor Collins.

“The study of ancient microbiomes helps us understand the evolutionary history of human health and disease," says Professor Frank Rühli, a senior author of the study and Head of the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zürich. “It informs modern medicine.”


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Christina Warinner, João F Matias Rodrigues, Rounak Vyas, Christian Trachsel, Natallia Shved, Jonas Grossmann, Anita Radini, Y Hancock, Raul Y Tito, Sarah Fiddyment, Camilla Speller, Jessica Hendy, Sophy Charlton, Hans Ulrich Luder, Domingo C Salazar-García, Elisabeth Eppler, Roger Seiler, Lars H Hansen, José Alfredo Samaniego Castruita, Simon Barkow-Oesterreicher, Kai Yik Teoh, Christian D Kelstrup, Jesper V Olsen, Paolo Nanni, Toshihisa Kawai, Eske Willerslev, Christian von Mering, Cecil M Lewis, Matthew J Collins, M Thomas P Gilbert, Frank Rühli, Enrico Cappellini. Pathogens and host immunity in the ancient human oral cavity. Nature Genetics, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ng.2906

Cite This Page:

University of York. "'Microbial Pompeii:' 1,000-year-old plaque preserves bacteria, microscopic particles of food on skeleton teeth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140223131629.htm>.
University of York. (2014, February 23). 'Microbial Pompeii:' 1,000-year-old plaque preserves bacteria, microscopic particles of food on skeleton teeth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140223131629.htm
University of York. "'Microbial Pompeii:' 1,000-year-old plaque preserves bacteria, microscopic particles of food on skeleton teeth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140223131629.htm (accessed December 17, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

AFP (Dec. 17, 2014) — Border closures, quarantines and crop losses in West African nations battling the Ebola virus could lead to as many as one million people going hungry, UN food agencies said on Wednesday. Duration: 00:52 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) — Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) — According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, waking up for work is the biggest factor that causes Americans to lose sleep. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flu Outbreak Closing Schools in Ohio

Flu Outbreak Closing Schools in Ohio

AP (Dec. 17, 2014) — A wave of flu illnesses has forced some Ohio schools to shut down over the past week. State officials confirmed one pediatric flu-related death, a 15-year-old girl in southern Ohio. (Dec. 17) Video provided by AP
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

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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