Extracting Fresh Insights from Ancient Teeth

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Christina Warinner and her colleagues, at the University of Oklahoma, study plaque from ancient teeth to unearth details of our oral microbiome evolution and its historical role in causing diseases such as periodontitis, a common and extremely damaging gum disease that causes teeth to fall out.

There are more bacteria in and on our bodies than there are human cells. This complex community is known as the microbiome, and only now are we discovering the essential role it plays in health and disease. To fully understand how the oral microbiome has evolved with us, we need to go back hundreds of years and delve into the mouths of our ancestors.

Gum disease is extremely common; almost every adult will experience it once in their lifetime. However, very little research has focused on finding out how humans have become susceptible to dental diseases and how they might be linked to factors such as diet, environment and culture. Christina Warinner and her colleagues are digging for answers in the plaque deposits of ancient teeth found in museum collections and archaeological sites from around the world. Sticky plaque entraps everything in our mouths and, fortunately for paleogenomic researchers, biomolecules such as DNA remain preserved on our teeth for millennia. This rich source of biomolecules offers a detailed record of a pathogen’s activity and evolution, allowing common diseases in our past and present to be better understood.

Using our reliable MinElute PCR Purification Kit and next-generation shotgun sequencing, Christina and her colleagues carried out one of the first detailed studies of ancient microbiome ecology and function.

Christina explained to us how our MinElute PCR Purification Kit contributed to her latest discoveries: "Paleogenomics research requires consumables and reagents that are both highly efficient and absolutely DNA-free. The MinElute PCR Purification Kit contains the only silica columns and buffers that I trust with my ancient DNA samples."

They compared plaque samples from teeth found in a medieval cemetery in Germany, showing signs of mild to severe periodontal disease, to modern plaque samples with a history of the same disease. Surprisingly, they found striking similarities between ancient and modern microbes responsible for causing periodontal disease, despite obvious changes in lifestyle, hygiene and diet. They also showed for the first time, that the human oral microbiome has long served as a reservoir for a wide range of disease-causing microbes and harbors a diverse range of known antibiotic resistance genes.

Christina and her team have shown that dental plaque is an important source of genetic information for studying the evolution of the microbiome and their work has the potential to uncover invaluable insights for modern medicine, microbiome research, archaeology and human evolutionary studies. To discover more about their fascinating studies, including work on the ancient gut microbiome, visit their dedicated web page. You can also find out more about our MinElute PCR Purification Kit using the link below or submit your own research stories