Microbiology. 2007 Apr;153(Pt 4):1243-9.
First report of Mycobacterium bovis DNA in human remains from the Iron Age.
Taylor GM, Murphy E, Hopkins R, Rutland P, Chistov Y.
Tuberculosis has plagued humankind since prehistoric times, as is evident from characteristic lesions on human skeletons dating back to the Neolithic period. The disease in man is due predominantly to infection with either Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Mycobacterium bovis, both members of the M. tuberculosis (MTB) complex. A number of studies have shown that when conditions permit, surviving mycobacterial DNA may be amplified from bone by PCR. Such ancient DNA (aDNA) analyses are subject to stringent tests of authenticity and, when feasible, are invariably limited by DNA fragmentation. Using PCRs based on single-nucleotide polymorphic loci and regions of difference (RDs) in the MTB complex, a study was made of five Iron Age individuals with spinal lesions recovered from the cemetery of Aymyrlyg, South Siberia. A sensitive screening PCR for MTB complex mycobacteria was positive in four out of the five cases. Genotyping evidence indicated that all four cases were due to infection with M. bovis rather than M. tuberculosis and the data were consistent with the proposed phylogenetic model of the MTB complex. This is believed to be the first report of M. bovis causing Pott's disease in archaeological human remains. The study shows that genotyping of ancestral strains of MTB complex mycobacteria from contexts of known date provides information which allows the phylogeny of the model to be tested. Moreover, it shows that loss of DNA from RD4, which defines classic M. bovis, had already occurred from the genome over 2000 years before the present.