Scientists for the first time completely sequenced the genome of the victim of the eruption of Vesuvius

(ORDO NEWS) — Previously, researchers have been able to sequence only short sections of mitochondrial DNA from some people and animals that died due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Naples in 79 AD.

A team of scientists from the Universities of Rome and Salento (Italy), Copenhagen (Denmark), Minas Gerais (Brazil) and California (USA) reported the first successful sequencing of the entire genome of a man who died in Pompeii in late August 79 AD, as a result of an eruption Vesuvius.

The port city of Pompeii, south of Naples, prospered during Roman times until one summer day a volcanic eruption completely destroyed it and buried it, along with more than two thousand inhabitants, in ash.

According to researchers, rich Romans came to Pompeii as a resort, although the city was also important for trade.

Several local buildings are exceptionally well preserved, including the Casa del Chirurgo (House of the Surgeon), Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun), and Casa dei Casti Amanti (House of Chaste Lovers).

Pompeii has been actively studied since the 19th century, and the process has not stopped until now.

However, bioarchaeological and genetic studies of the remains of the victims of Vesuvius were a difficult task: the fact is that exposure to high temperatures (and the initial temperature of the lava of this still active volcano is estimated at about 800-1000 degrees Celsius) destroys the intercellular substance of bone tissue, changes the structure of the bioapatite mineral and in as a result, reduces the quality and quantity of DNA available for extraction.

On the other hand, the advantage for scientists here is that the pyroclastic materials – the debris products of the explosive eruption of volcanoes that covered the skeletons – protected them from environmental influences, and the DNA of the victims from decomposition.

Scientists for the first time completely sequenced the genome of the victim of the eruption of Vesuvius 2
Photograph and digital x-ray of a human fourth lumbar vertebra (L4) affected by tuberculous spondylodiscitis

Previous authors have been able to extract deoxyribonucleic acid from both human and animal remains at Pompeii.

However, they had to limit themselves to short lengths of mitochondrial DNA , obtained using methods based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Now, thanks to new technologies, in particular the so-called shotgun method for sequencing long stretches of DNA, scientists can get more data from samples that were previously not suitable for genetic research.

This time, the subject of study was the remains of two people found in the Pompeian Casa del Fabbro (Craftsman’s House): like many in this city, they, apparently, did not attach importance to the impending disaster, so the eruption caught them by surprise – resting after a meal on something like couches in a triclinium.

Scientists for the first time completely sequenced the genome of the victim of the eruption of Vesuvius 1
Victims of the Vesuvius eruption in the Craftsman’s House

The first victim was a man 35-40 years old and about 164 centimeters tall. The second is a woman over 50 years old and 153.1 centimeters tall. Scientists extracted and sequenced the DNA of both victims, but the entire genome was sequenced only for the man (there were gaps in the amino acid sequence of the woman’s proteins).

By comparing the man’s DNA with that of more than a thousand ancient inhabitants of Western Eurasia and about 500 contemporaries, the team learned that the deceased in Pompeii is most similar to the current population of the central regions of Italy and other people who lived in this territory during the Roman Empire.

But the analysis of mitochondrial DNA and the study of the Y-chromosome also revealed genes that are found in the inhabitants of the island of Sardinia (haplogroup HV0a) and are absent in those who inhabited Italy in the Roman era.

According to scientists, this implies that at the beginning of our era, the Apennine Peninsula probably experienced a high level of genetic diversity.

“It can be assumed that through the expansion and increase in population sizes during the era of the Roman Empire, the Roman genetic fund contributed to nearby populations with genetic markers that can still be traced to modern Mediterranean regions.

Our results showed a strong relationship of individual A (male 35-40 years old) with the Neolithic Anatolians, his Y-chromosome haplogroup is today found only among modern Sardinians.

Probably, this male line in the Neolithic era “arrived” on the Apennine Peninsula with an Anatolian source,” the authors of the article write.

However, since the deceased in Pompeii is most genetically close to the inhabitants of Central Italy of the Roman era, there is no doubt that he was a native of Penisola italica. But whether this person belonged to the local population of Pompeev or simply came there to stay is difficult to determine.

Then, after examining the man’s skeleton, scientists identified damage to one of the lumbar vertebrae: this is usually characteristic of tuberculous spondylitis, a chronic infectious disease of the spine, in which the functions of the damaged vertebrae are impaired and pain develops.

The authors of the work are confident that although their study was limited to one person, they laid the foundation for the study of the remains of the remaining victims of the Vesuvius eruption using paleogenomic methods.


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