Most genetic studies of Holocene fauna have been performed with ancient samples from dry and cold regions, in which preservation of fossils is facilitated and molecular damage is reduced. Ancient DNA work from tropical regions has been precluded owing to factors that limit DNA preservation (e.g. temperature, hydrolytic damage). We analysed ancient DNA from rodent jawbones identified as Ototylomys phyllotis, found in Holocene and Late Pleistocene stratigraphic layers from Loltún, a humid tropical cave located in the Yucatan peninsula. We extracted DNA and amplified six short overlapping fragments of the cytochrome b gene, totalling 666 bp, which represents an unprecedented success considering tropical ancient DNA samples. We performed genetic, phylogenetic and divergence time analyses, combining sequences from ancient and modern O. phyllotis, in order to assess the ancestry of the Loltún samples. Results show that all ancient samples fall into a unique clade that diverged prior to the divergence of the modern O. phyllotis, supporting it as a distinct Pleistocene form of the Ototylomys genus. Hence, this rodent's tale suggests that the sister group to modern O. phyllotis arose during the Miocene-Pliocene, diversified during the Pleistocene and went extinct in the Holocene.
We report metrics from complete genome capture of nuclear DNA from extinct mammoths using biotinylated RNAs transcribed from an Asian elephant DNA extract. Enrichment of the nuclear genome ranged from 1.06- to 18.65-fold, to an apparent maximum threshold of ?80% on-target. This projects an order of magnitude less costly complete genome sequencing from long-dead organisms, even when a reference genome is unavailable for bait design.
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.
Yersinia pestis has caused at least three human plague pandemics. The second (Black Death, 14-17th centuries) and third (19-20th centuries) have been genetically characterised, but there is only a limited understanding of the first pandemic, the Plague of Justinian (6-8th centuries). To address this gap, we sequenced and analysed draft genomes of Y pestis obtained from two individuals who died in the first pandemic.
In the 19th century, there were several major cholera pandemics in the Indian subcontinent, Europe, and North America. The causes of these outbreaks and the genomic strain identities remain a mystery. We used targeted high-throughput sequencing to reconstruct the Vibrio cholerae genome from the preserved intestine of a victim of the 1849 cholera outbreak in Philadelphia, part of the second cholera pandemic. This O1 biotype strain has 95 to 97% similarity with the classical O395 genome, differing by 203 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), lacking three genomic islands, and probably having one or more tandem cholera toxin prophage (CTX) arrays, which potentially affected its virulence. This result highlights archived medical remains as a potential resource for investigations into the genomic origins of past pandemics.
Targeted DNA enrichment through hybridization capture (EHC) is rapidly replacing PCR as the method of choice for enrichment prior to genomic resequencing. This is especially true in the case of ancient DNA (aDNA) from long-dead organisms, where targets tend to be highly fragmented and outnumbered by contaminant DNA. However, the behavior of EHC using aDNA has been quite variable, making success difficult to predict and preventing efficient sample equilibration during multiplexed sequencing runs. Here, we evaluate whether quantitative PCR (qPCR) measurements of aDNA samples correlate with on-target read counts before and after EHC. Our data indicate that not only do simple target qPCRs correlate strongly with high-throughput sequencing (HTS) data but that certain sample characteristics, such as overall target abundance as well as experimental parameters (e.g., bait concentration and secondary structure propensity), consistently influenced enrichment of our diverse set of aDNA samples. Taken together, our results should help guide experimental design, screening strategies, and multiplexed sample equilibration, increasing yield and reducing the expected and actual cost of aDNA EHC high-throughput sequencing projects in the future.
DNA sequencing of ancient permafrost samples can be used to reconstruct past plant, animal and bacterial communities. In this study, we assess the small-scale reproducibility of taxonomic composition obtained from sequencing four molecular markers (mitochondrial 12S ribosomal DNA (rDNA), prokaryote 16S rDNA, mitochondrial cox1 and chloroplast trnL intron) from two soil cores sampled 10 cm apart. In addition, sequenced control reactions were used to produce a contaminant library that was used to filter similar sequences from sample libraries. Contaminant filtering resulted in the removal of 1% of reads or 0.3% of operational taxonomic units. We found similar richness, overlap, abundance and taxonomic diversity from the 12S, 16S and trnL markers from each soil core. Jaccard dissimilarity across the two soil cores was highest for metazoan taxa detected by the 12S and cox1 markers. Taxonomic community distances were similar for each marker across the two soil cores when the chi-squared metric was used; however, the 12S and cox1 markers did not cluster well when the Goodall similarity metric was used. A comparison of plant macrofossil vs. read abundance corroborates previous work that suggests eastern Beringia was dominated by grasses and forbs during cold stages of the Pleistocene, a habitat that is restricted to isolated sites in the present-day Yukon.
Although investigations of medieval plague victims have identified Yersinia pestis as the putative etiologic agent of the pandemic, methodological limitations have prevented large-scale genomic investigations to evaluate changes in the pathogens virulence over time. We screened over 100 skeletal remains from Black Death victims of the East Smithfield mass burial site (1348-1350, London, England). Recent methods of DNA enrichment coupled with high-throughput DNA sequencing subsequently permitted reconstruction of ten full human mitochondrial genomes (16 kb each) and the full pPCP1 (9.6 kb) virulence-associated plasmid at high coverage. Comparisons of molecular damage profiles between endogenous human and Y. pestis DNA confirmed its authenticity as an ancient pathogen, thus representing the longest contiguous genomic sequence for an ancient pathogen to date. Comparison of our reconstructed plasmid against modern Y. pestis shows identity with several isolates matching the Medievalis biovar; however, our chromosomal sequences indicate the victims were infected with a Y. pestis variant that has not been previously reported. Our data reveal that the Black Death in medieval Europe was caused by a variant of Y. pestis that may no longer exist, and genetic data carried on its pPCP1 plasmid were not responsible for the purported epidemiological differences between ancient and modern forms of Y. pestis infections.
Technological advances in DNA recovery and sequencing have drastically expanded the scope of genetic analyses of ancient specimens to the extent that full genomic investigations are now feasible and are quickly becoming standard. This trend has important implications for infectious disease research because genomic data from ancient microbes may help to elucidate mechanisms of pathogen evolution and adaptation for emerging and re-emerging infections. Here we report a reconstructed ancient genome of Yersinia pestis at 30-fold average coverage from Black Death victims securely dated to episodes of pestilence-associated mortality in London, England, 1348-1350. Genetic architecture and phylogenetic analysis indicate that the ancient organism is ancestral to most extant strains and sits very close to the ancestral node of all Y. pestis commonly associated with human infection. Temporal estimates suggest that the Black Death of 1347-1351 was the main historical event responsible for the introduction and widespread dissemination of the ancestor to all currently circulating Y. pestis strains pathogenic to humans, and further indicates that contemporary Y. pestis epidemics have their origins in the medieval era. Comparisons against modern genomes reveal no unique derived positions in the medieval organism, indicating that the perceived increased virulence of the disease during the Black Death may not have been due to bacterial phenotype. These findings support the notion that factors other than microbial genetics, such as environment, vector dynamics and host susceptibility, should be at the forefront of epidemiological discussions regarding emerging Y. pestis infections.
Late Pleistocene North America hosted at least two divergent and ecologically distinct species of mammoth: the periglacial woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and the subglacial Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). To date, mammoth genetic research has been entirely restricted to woolly mammoths, rendering their genetic evolution difficult to contextualize within broader Pleistocene paleoecology and biogeography. Here, we take an interspecific approach to clarifying mammoth phylogeny by targeting Columbian mammoth remains for mitogenomic sequencing.
The discovery of antibiotics more than 70 years ago initiated a period of drug innovation and implementation in human and animal health and agriculture. These discoveries were tempered in all cases by the emergence of resistant microbes. This history has been interpreted to mean that antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria is a modern phenomenon; this view is reinforced by the fact that collections of microbes that predate the antibiotic era are highly susceptible to antibiotics. Here we report targeted metagenomic analyses of rigorously authenticated ancient DNA from 30,000-year-old Beringian permafrost sediments and the identification of a highly diverse collection of genes encoding resistance to ?-lactam, tetracycline and glycopeptide antibiotics. Structure and function studies on the complete vancomycin resistance element VanA confirmed its similarity to modern variants. These results show conclusively that antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon that predates the modern selective pressure of clinical antibiotic use.
Preserved hair has been increasingly used as an ancient DNA source in high throughput sequencing endeavors, and it may actually offer several advantages compared to more traditional ancient DNA substrates like bone. However, cold environments have yielded the most informative ancient hair specimens, while its preservation, and thus utility, in temperate regions is not well documented. Coprolites could represent a previously underutilized preservation substrate for hairs, which, if present therein, represent macroscopic packages of specific cells that are relatively simple to separate, clean and process. In this pilot study, we report amplicons 147-152 base pairs in length (w/primers) from hair shafts preserved in a south Chilean coprolite attributed to Darwins extinct ground sloth, Mylodon darwinii. Our results suggest that hairs preserved in coprolites from temperate cave environments can serve as an effective source of ancient DNA. This bodes well for potential molecular-based population and phylogeographic studies on sloths, several species of which have been understudied despite leaving numerous coprolites in caves across of the Americas.
Quaternary plant ecology in much of the world has historically relied on morphological identification of macro- and microfossils from sediments of small freshwater lakes. Here, we report new protocols that reliably yield DNA sequence data from Holocene plant macrofossils and bulk lake sediment used to infer ecological change. This will allow changes in census populations, estimated from fossils and associated sediment, to be directly associated with population genetic changes.
Deaths from cholera in London, UK, were recorded weekly from 1824 to 1901. Three features of the time series stand out: (i) cholera deaths were strongly seasonal, with peak mortality almost always in the summer, (ii) the only non-summer outbreaks occurred in the spring of 1832, the autumn of 1848 and the winter of 1853, and (iii) extraordinarily severe summer outbreaks occurred in 1832, 1849, 1854 and 1866 (the four great cholera years). The non-summer outbreaks of 1832, 1848 and 1853 appear to have been herald waves of newly invading cholera strains. In addition, a simple mathematical model confirms that a non-summer introduction of a new cholera strain can result in an initial herald wave, followed by a severe outbreak the following summer. Through the analysis of the genomes of nineteenth-century specimens, it may be possible to identify the strains that caused these herald waves and the well-known cholera epidemics that followed.
The in-vitro reverse transcription of RNA to its complementary DNA, catalyzed by the enzyme reverse transcriptase, is the most fundamental step in the quantitative RNA detection in genomic studies. As such, this step should be as analytically sensitive, efficient and reproducible as possible, especially when dealing with degraded or low copy RNA samples. While there are many reverse transcriptases in the market, all claiming to be highly sensitive, there is need for a systematic independent comparison of their applicability in quantification of rare RNA transcripts or low copy RNA, such as those obtained from archival tissues.
Archival formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) human tissue collections are typically in poor states of storage across the developing world. With advances in biomolecular techniques, these extraordinary and virtually untapped resources have become an essential part of retrospective epidemiological studies. To successfully use such tissues in genomic studies, scientists require high nucleic acid yields and purity. In spite of the increasing number of FFPE tissue kits available, few studies have analyzed their applicability in recovering high-quality nucleic acids from archived human autopsy samples. Here we provide a study involving 10 major extraction methods used to isolate total nucleic acid from FFPE tissues ranging in age from 3 to 13years. Although all 10 methods recovered quantifiable amounts of DNA, only 6 recovered quantifiable RNA, varying considerably and generally yielding lower DNA concentrations. Overall, we show quantitatively that TrimGens WaxFree method and our in-house phenol-chloroform extraction method recovered the highest yields of amplifiable DNA, with considerable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) inhibition, whereas Ambions RecoverAll method recovered the most amplifiable RNA.
Inhibition is problematic in many applications of PCR, particularly those involving degraded or low amounts of template DNA, when simply diluting the extract is undesirable. Two basic approaches to monitoring inhibition in such samples using real-time or quantitative PCR (qPCR) have been proposed. The first method analyzes the quantification cycle (Cq) deviation of a spiked internal positive control. The second method considers variations in reaction efficiency based on the slopes of individual amplification plots. In combining these methods, we observed increased Cq values together with reduced amplification efficiencies in some samples, as expected; however, deviations from this pattern in other samples support the use of both measurements. Repeat inhibition testing enables optimization of PCR facilitator combinations and sample dilution such that DNA yields and/or quantitative accuracy can be maximized in subsequent PCR runs. Although some trends were apparent within sample types, differences in inhibition levels, optimal reactions conditions, and expected recovery of DNA under these conditions suggest that all samples be routinely tested with this approach.
Gilbert et al. (Reports, 9 May 2008, p. 786) analyzed DNA from radiocarbon-dated paleofecal remains from Paisley Cave, Oregon, which ostensibly demonstrate a human presence in North America predating the well-established Clovis complex. We question the authenticity of their DNA results and argue that in the absence of intact stratigraphy and diagnostic artifacts, and in view of carbon isotope anomalies, the radiocarbon dates of the oldest specimens are unreliable.
Despite being plagued by heavily degraded DNA in palaeontological remains, most studies addressing the state of DNA degradation have been limited to types of damage which do not pose a hindrance to Taq polymerase during PCR. Application of serial qPCR to the two fractions obtained during extraction (demineralization and protein digest) from six permafrost mammoth bones and one partially degraded modern elephant bone has enabled further insight into the changes which endogenous DNA is subjected to during diagenesis. We show here that both fractions exhibit individual qualities in terms of the prevailing type of DNA (i.e. mitochondrial versus nuclear DNA) as well as the extent of damage, and in addition observed a highly variable ratio of mitochondrial to nuclear DNA among the six mammoth samples. While there is evidence suggesting that mitochondrial DNA is better preserved than nuclear DNA in ancient permafrost samples, we find the initial DNA concentration in the bone tissue to be as relevant for the total accessible mitochondrial DNA as the extent of DNA degradation post-mortem. We also evaluate the general applicability of indirect measures of preservation such as amino-acid racemization, bone crystallinity index and thermal age to these exceptionally well-preserved samples.
The successful reconstruction of an ancient bacterial genome from archaeological material presents an important methodological advancement for infectious disease research. The reliability of evolutionary histories inferred by the incorporation of ancient data, however, are highly contingent upon the level of genetic diversity represented in modern genomic sequences that are publicly accessible, and the paucity of available complete genomes restricts the level of phylogenetic resolution that can be obtained. Here we add to our original analysis of the Yersinia pestis strain implicated in the Black Death by consolidating our dataset for 18 modern genomes with single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data for an additional 289 strains at over 600 positions. The inclusion of this additional data reveals a cluster of Y. pestis strains that diverge at a time significantly in advance of the Black Death, with divergence dates roughly coincident with the Plague of Justinian (6(th) to 8(th) century AD). In addition, the analysis reveals further clues regarding potential radiation events that occurred immediately preceding the Black Death, and the legacy it may have left in modern Y. pestis populations. This work reiterates the need for more publicly available complete genomes, both modern and ancient, to achieve an accurate understanding of the history of this bacterium.
An unfailing observation over the past 70 years is that resistance to all antibiotics emerges eventually after use in the clinic. Where does this resistance come from? Recent work has shown that antibiotic resistance genes are common in metagenomes of ancient sediments. This prevalence of resistance, well before the use of antibiotics, denotes the importance of taking microbial chemical ecology and deep metagenomic profiling into account in the development and use of antibiotics.
Ancient hair, which has proved to be an excellent source of well-preserved ancient DNA, is often preserved in paleofeces. Here, we separate and wash hair shafts preserved in a paleofecal specimen believed to be from a Darwins ground sloth, Mylodon darwinii. After extracting DNA from the recovered and cleaned hair using a protocol optimized for DNA extraction from keratinous substrates, we amplify 12S and 16S rDNA sequences from the DNA extract. As expected, the recovered sequences most closely match previously published sequences of M. darwinii. Our results demonstrate that hair preserved in paleofeces, even from temperate cave environments, is an effective source of ancient DNA.
Paleofeces are the nonmineralized remains of dung from extant and extinct fauna. They represent a surprisingly large proportion of fossil remains recovered from cave sites across the world. Paleofeces contain the DNA of the defecator as well as the DNA of ingested plant and animal remains. To successfully extract DNA from paleofeces, a balance must be achieved between the minimization of DNA loss during extraction and the removal of coeluates that would otherwise inhibit the Taq DNA polymerase during downstream applications. Here we present a simplified version of a protocol to extract DNA from paleofecal remains.
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