Livestock Disease Diagnosed in 700-Year-Old Skeleton: Study

First Posted: Jul 15, 2014 07:06 AM EDT

European researchers have recovered a genome of bacterium Brucella melitensis from a  700-year-old skeleton recovered from the ruins of a medieval Italian village.

The scientists used a technique known as shot gun metagenomics for sequencing the DNA from a calcified nodule of the pelvic bone. The skeleton is of a middle-aged man.

The study revealed, the infection was brucellosis , generally found in livestocks. Human are affected by this bacteria only when they ingest unpasteurized dairy products or come in direct contact with infected animals.

"Normally when you think of calcified material in human or animal remains you think about tuberculosis, because that's the most common infection that leads to calcification. We were a bit surprised to get Brucella instead," said senior study author Mark Pallen, PhD, professor of microbial genomics at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, England, in a press release

The researchers found 32 bony nodules in the man's pelvic region, most  the size of a penny.

The DNA from the skeleton  were shorter and had  mutations at the ends. The researchers also discovered that the medieval Brucella strain, Geridu-1, was closely related to a modern strain called Ether.

Pallen's team earlier used the metagenomics technique to recover the tuberculosis genomes from the lung tissue of a 215-year-old mummy from Hungary

The team is using the same technique on a wide range of historical materials like Hungarian mummies, Egyptian mummies and a Korean mummy from the 16th century.

The study was published in mBio®, an open access online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.

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