A study led by The University of Manchester has demonstrated that new technology that can analyse millions of gene sequences in a matter of seconds is an effective way to quickly and accurately identify diseases in skeletons.
Professor Terry Brown, working in partnership with Professor Charlotte Roberts from Durham University, used a next generation sequencing approach, including hybridization capture technology, to identify tuberculosis genes in a 19th century female skeleton found in a crypt in Leeds.
Their study is part of wider research into the identification of strains of TB in skeletons dating from 100 AD to the late 19th century. It's hoped that understanding how the disease has evolved over time will help improve treatments and vaccines. TB rates have been increasing around the world, and it's estimated that one third of the world's population has latent TB. After HIV it kills more people than any other infectious disease.
Certain strains of TB affect the sufferer's bones, especially in the spine. The marks made by the disease remain evident on the bones long after the person's death. It's this evidence that Professor Roberts used to find suitable skeletons to screen for tuberculosis genes.
She sourced 500 skeletons from across Europe that showed evidence of TB dating from the Roman period to the 19th century. Bone samples from these skeletons were screened for TB DNA, and of those 100 were chosen for this particular study.
Professor Roberts explains: "So many skeletons were needed as it's very hard to tell if any DNA will have survived in the bones. You don't really know if there will be any present until you start screening and in the past that has been a lengthy process."
Professor Terry Brown then took on the search for TB DNA in the skeletons. Each small section of bone was ground up and placed in a solution. That was then put in a special machine which captured every gene sequence in the DNA
|Contact: Morwenna Grills|
University of Manchester