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An Investigation of the Evolutionary History of Tuberculosis Using Ancient DNA

TB mycobacterium

The goal of this project is to analyze ancient DNA from skeletal samples dating before, during and after the “Age of Exploration” that show evidence of tubercular bone lesions and integrate these data with those of modern strains of tuberculosis to assess the evolutionary history of tuberculosis and its effects on human history.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a re-emerging infectious disease that has a long history of affecting humans, as shown by bioarchaeological and historical data. Recent molecular evidence indicates that TB is much older than previously thought, extending over three million years in the Old World and originating in Africa.

The goal of this project is to analyze ancient DNA from skeletal samples dating before, during and after the “Age of Exploration” that show evidence of tubercular bone lesions and integrate these data with those of modern strains of tuberculosis to assess the evolutionary history of tuberculosis and its effects on human history.

We will extract DNA from approximately 275 bone samples, test them for the presence of human and tuberculosis DNA using quantitative PCR and then subject those that are positive for TB DNA to direct multiplex sequencing using Next Generation sequencing technology. The data generated will be used to examine the relationship between TB strains in the Americas before and after European contact since it is hypothesized that European strains replaced those found in the Americas prior to contact.

In addition, we will assess the relationship between Asian (ancient and modern) TB strains and the strains present in the Americas prior to European contact, as well as assess whether the increase in prevalence of tuberculosis during the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe was due to the spread of new strains. Preliminary data indicate that about 17% of our samples contain TB DNA, and our quantitative PCR data suggest that the strains present in the Americas before European contact were different from the strains present today. 

 

Funding Source:
National Science Foundation 

Anne Stone, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Jane Buikstra, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Tessa Campbell, University of Cape Town
Maria Nieves Colon, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Kelly Harkins, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Meagan Rubel, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change