International Symposium on Archaeometry edition:37 location:Siena date:12-16 May 2008
One of the most intriguing aspects of the interaction between humans and environment is the effects of epidemics due to infective agents on the populations of the past. Did the devastating plagues carry only desolation and misery to the humankind or also some unsuspected, well hidden benefits? Epidemics that killed large parts of the European populations in early centuries might have positively selected individuals carrying protective genes. It is in fact a general observation that after the first impact, the affected population shows a higher resistance against the following waves of the disease. At a genetic level, such sort of ‘immunity’ could be explained by one or more variants in the genome, which confer an advantage in the fight of the organism against the pathogens.
With the support of DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), we have started last year a new project to investigate some interactions between infective diseases and genetic mutations by means of ancient DNA analysis on skeletal human remains from European epidemic mass graves (from England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy). The goal of this work is to detect for presence/absence of the mutated genes in persons who died in the past for plague and cholera. For this purpose, we developed a detecting method that can analyse 19 loci in just one reaction.
Additionally, here we present our first results in retrieving bacterial ancient-DNA in the ancient European plague bones, both by means of molecular genetics investigation and of a rapid diagnostic test for plague based on an immunological reaction.