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Ancient Pathogens

The biomolecular investigation of pathogens in ancient human remains represents an emerging field of research which provides considerable insight into the history and evolution of infectious diseases. The applied diagnostic approaches in paleomicobiology range from the histological detection to the PCR-based characterization of ancient pathogens. More recently, the era of high-throughput sequencing paved new ways to analyze ancient DNA resulting e.g. in the first complete genome of the causative agent of Black Death, Yersinia pestis. However there are obstacles yet to overcome such as the limitations of PCR-based approaches in analyzing highly degraded ancient DNA extracts or the development of bioinformatics pipelines to screen complex metagenomic datasets for ancient pathogens.

The aim of this project will be to improve the DNA-based detection of pathogens in ancient human remains. To further optimize molecular diagnostics approaches the EURAC Institute for Mummy Studies has access to an variety of tissue samples with possible tuberculosis, brucellosis and malaria infection. Moreover, together with our cooperation partner from Vienna and Stockholm we are analyzing the metagenomic data of the Iceman´s genomic survey in order to establish a bioinformatics pipeline for the de novo detection of pathogens in metagenomic datasets of ancient human remains. Thereby obtained knowledge is currently also applied to shotgun datasets of Tuberculosis positive skeletal material. In addition we seek for molecular traces of other diseases such as e.g. leprosy, syphilis, malaria and plague in ancient human remains.


PERIOD: 01.01.2013 - 31.12.2019

PROJECT MANAGER/VICE PROJECT MANAGER: Maixner Frank/Zink Albert

PROJECT PARTNERS: 

  • Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen Mannheim
  • Universita degli Studi di Firenze, Facultà di Medicina e Chirurgia
  • Universita degli Studi di Firenze, Facultà di Medicina e Chirurgia
  • University of Tübingen
  • University of Vienna, CUBE - Division of Computational Systems Biology, Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science
  • University of Vienna, CUBE - Division of Computational Systems Biology, Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science
  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
  • Centre for Translational Microbiome Research (CTMR), Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
  • University of Bern, Department of Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine
  • Medizinische Universität Wien, Forensische Medizin, Fachbereich Forensische Anthropologie
  • University of Trento, Centre for Integrative Biology

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