Tuberculosis genomes recovered from 200-year old Hungarian mummy

July 19, 2013, University of Warwick

Researchers at the University of Warwick have recovered tuberculosis (TB) genomes from the lung tissue of a 215-year old mummy using a technique known as metagenomics.

The team, led by Professor Mark Pallen, Professor of Microbial Genomics at Warwick Medical School, working with Helen Donoghue at University College London and collaborators in Birmingham and Budapest, sought to use the technique to identify TB DNA in a historical specimen.

The term 'metagenomics' is used to describe the open-ended sequencing of DNA from samples without the need for culture or target-specific amplification or enrichment. This approach avoids the complex and unreliable workflows associated with culture of bacteria or amplification of DNA and draws on the remarkable throughput and ease of use of modern sequencing approaches.

The sample came from a Hungarian woman, Terézia Hausmann, who died aged 28 on 25 December 1797. Her mummified remains were recovered from a crypt in the town of Vác, Hungary. When the crypt was opened in 1994, it was found to contain the naturally mummified bodies of 242 people. Molecular analyses of the chest sample in a previous study confirmed the diagnosis of tuberculosis and hinted that TB DNA was extremely well preserved in her body.

Professor Pallen explained the importance of the breakthrough, "Most other attempts to recover DNA sequences from historical or ancient samples have suffered from the risk of contamination, because they rely on amplification of DNA in the laboratory, plus they have required onerous optimisation of target-specific assays. The beauty of metagenomics is that it provides a simple but highly informative, assumption-free, one-size-fits-all approach that works in a wide variety of contexts. A few months ago we showed that metagenomics allowed us to identify an E. coli outbreak strains from faecal samples and a few weeks ago a similar approach was shown by another group to deliver a genome from historical material".

The research, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that Terézia Hausmann suffered from a mixed infection with two different strains of the TB bacterium. This information, combined with work on contemporary tuberculosis, highlights the significance of mixed-strain infections, particularly when is highly prevalent.

Professor Pallen added, "It was fascinating to see the similarities between the TB genome sequences we recovered and the of a recent outbreak strain in Germany. It shows once more that using metagenomics can be remarkably effective in tracking the evolution and spread of microbes without the need for culture—in this case, metagenomes revealed that some strain lineages have been circulating in Europe for more than two centuries."

Explore further: Genomics may help ID organisms in outbreaks of serious infectious disease

Related Stories

Genomics may help ID organisms in outbreaks of serious infectious disease

April 9, 2013
Researchers have been able to reconstruct the genome sequence of an outbreak strain of Shiga-toxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC) using metagenomics (the direct sequencing of DNA extracted from microbiologically complex samples), ...

Technology brings new life to the study of diseases in old bones

October 22, 2012
A study led by The University of Manchester has demonstrated that new technology that can analyse millions of gene sequences in a matter of seconds is an effective way to quickly and accurately identify diseases in skeletons.

Whole genome sequencing better at tracing TB outbreaks than standard test

February 19, 2013
A new form of genetic testing of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis can provide better information on TB transmission and also trace TB outbreaks more accurately than the current standard test, according to a study from ...

Study finds vitamin C can kill drug-resistant TB (w/ video)

May 21, 2013
In a striking, unexpected discovery, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have determined that vitamin C kills drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) bacteria in laboratory culture. The finding ...

Scientists discover ethnic differences in immune response to TB bacterium

July 4, 2013
The immune response to the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) varies between patients of different ethnic origin, raising important implications for the development of tests to diagnose and monitor treatment for the ...

Recommended for you

Flu infection study increases understanding of natural immunity

January 23, 2018
People with higher levels of antibodies against the stem portion of the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) protein have less viral shedding when they get the flu, but do not have fewer or less severe signs of illness, according ...

New long-acting approach for malaria therapy developed

January 22, 2018
A new study, published in Nature Communications, conducted by the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine highlights a new 'long acting' medicine for the prevention of malaria.

Virus shown to be likely cause of mystery polio-like illness

January 22, 2018
A major review by UNSW researchers has identified strong evidence that a virus called Enterovirus D68 is the cause of a mystery polio-like illness that has paralysed children in the US, Canada and Europe.

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.