Researchers analyze the first-ever effectively sequenced the Pompeiian human genome

A study released this week in Scientific Reports presents the first effectively sequenced human genome from a person who perished in Pompeii, Italy, after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE. Only limited lengths of mitochondrial DNA from human and animal remains from Pompeii had previously been sequenced.

Gabriele Scorrano and colleagues investigated and retrieved DNA from the remains of two persons discovered in Pompeii’s House of the Craftsman. The bones’ shape, structure, and length suggested that one set of remains belonged to a male between the ages of 35 and 40 at the time of his demise, while the other set belonged to a female over the age of 50.

The researchers were able to retrieve and analyze ancient DNA from both individuals, but due to discrepancies in the sequences retrieved from the female’s bones, they were only able to read the whole genome from the male’s remains.

When the DNA of the male individual was compared to that of 1,030 other ancient and 471 present western Eurasian individuals, it was discovered that his DNA had the most in common with modern central Italians and other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Empire.

Yet, studies of the male individual’s mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA revealed the presence of sets of genes that are widespread among Sardinians but not in other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Empire. This indicates that there was likely a lot of genetic variation on the Italian Peninsula at the time.

Additional examinations of the male’s skeleton and DNA revealed abnormalities in one of the vertebrae as well as DNA sequences that are typically seen in Mycobacterium, the bacterial genus that includes the tuberculosis-causing bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This indicates that the person may have had tuberculosis before his death.

The authors think that pyroclastic materials generated during the eruption may have given protection from DNA-degrading environmental variables including atmospheric oxygen, making it feasible to effectively retrieve ancient DNA from the male individual’s remains.

The discoveries show that ancient DNA may be extracted from human bones from Pompeii and provide new insight into the genetic history and lives of this community, according to the researchers.

Source:
Journal reference:

Scorrano, G., et al. (2022) Bioarchaeological and paleogenomics portrait of two Pompeians that died during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Scientific Reports. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-10899-1.

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