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Ancient pathogen DNA in archaeological samples detected with a Microbial Detection Array

Research paper outlining the usefulness of broad microarrays as a rapid and inexpensive paleopathological screening tool for ancient samples.

Mar 12, 2014

Authors: Alison M. Devault, Kevin McLoughlin, Crystal Jaing, Shea Gardner, Teresita M. Porter, Jacob M. Enk, James Thissen, Jonathan Allen, Monica Borucki, Sharon N. DeWitte, Anna N. Dhody, and Hendrik N. Poinar

Scientific Reports, Vol. 4, Article No. 4245, March 2014, pp. 1–8. DOI: 10.1038/srep04245


Ancient human remains of paleopathological interest typically contain highly degraded DNA in which pathogenic taxa are often minority components, making sequence-based metagenomic characterization costly. Microarrays may hold a potential solution to these challenges, offering a rapid, affordable, and highly informative snapshot of microbial diversity in complex samples without the lengthy analysis and/or high cost associated with high-throughput sequencing. Their versatility is well established for modern clinical specimens, but they have yet to be applied to ancient remains. Here we report bacterial profiles of archaeological and historical human remains using the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA). The array successfully identified previously-verified bacterial human pathogens, including Vibrio cholerae (cholera) in a 19th century intestinal specimen and Yersinia pestis (“Black Death” plague) in a medieval tooth, which represented only minute fractions (0.03% and 0.08% alignable high-throughput shotgun sequencing reads) of their respective DNA content. This demonstrates that the LLMDA can identify primary and/or co-infecting bacterial pathogens in ancient samples, thereby serving as a rapid and inexpensive paleopathological screening tool to study health across both space and time.

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