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.
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.
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