The genome of a bid for the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius over the ancient city of Pompeii has been sequenced for the first time, researchers reveal, shedding new light on the health and diversity of those living in the Roman Empire at the time of the disaster, writes The Guardian.
A genome is all the genetic information of an organism that is encoded in the organism’s DNA. DNA sequencing is different methods used to be able to read the order of the letters (base pairs) in the genetic material DNA. The goal of DNA sequencing is to access the body’s genetic code. The genetic code and its base order are this technology and expression.
It was the year 79 AD. that the Roman city of Campania in Italia, southeast of Naples, was completely buried by a violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and 2,000 people were killed.
The findings are encoded in DNA retrieved from the bone of the deceased people. Old DNA was preserved in the body which was encapsulated in ash which has been hardened over time, writes the BBC.
Did not escape
The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports Thursday this week. In the research project, a group of researchers, led by Gabriele Scorrano, assistant professor of geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen, obtained DNA from two victims: one and a woman. The remains were found in «Casa del Fabbro», or «Håndværkerhuset», for the first time in 1933, after «Håndværkerhuset» was excavated in 1914.
Although the researchers sequenced DNA from both victims, they were only able to sequence the entire genome from the male remains, due to gaps in the sequences from the female. They must have been sitting together in the corner of the dining room then, which may indicate eating lunch when the outbreak happened. And fresh examination suggests that the huge cloud of ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius may have killed the city’s inhabitants in less than 20 minutes.
The two victims the researchers have studied, according to anthropologist Dr. Serena Viva from the University of Salente, not to escape. She was part of the research group.
– From their body positions it seems that they did not flee, said Dr. Viva til BCC Radio 4s Inside Science.
– The answer to why they did not flee may lie in their health conditions, she added.
The case continues during the video
Clues have now been revealed through this new study of the leg of the two deceased people. And thus we know more about their state of health.
– It was all about preserving the skeletons, explains Professor Gabriele Scorrano to the BBC. He works for the Lundbeck GeoGenetics Center in Copenhagen, and led the research project.
– That was the first thing we looked at, and it looked like the laws, so then we decided to try DNA extraction, Scorrano continues.
Tuberculosis bacteria found
The man was between 35 and 40 years old when he was killed in the violent eruption of the volcano Vesuvius. There is much to suggest that his DNA shares many similarities with modern individuals from central Italy and those who lived during ancient Roman times.
Both the remarkable preservation of DNA in the skeletons and the latest laboratory technology allowed the researchers to extract a lot of information from a “very small amount of bone powder”, as Professor Scorrano explained.
New sequencing machines can read multiple entire genomes simultaneously, according to Scorrano.
Further analysis of the man’s skeleton also identifies damage to one of the vertebrae, and DNA sequences suggest that he may have had tuberculosis before he was killed by the volcano. The woman was over 50 years old and is believed to have had wear and tear, a disease that affects the joints.
– This may have been the reason why they waited for the ashes to take them, compared to other victims who were on the run, says Dr. Viva to The Guardian.
The Pompeii ruins were discovered in the 16th century, and the first excavations began in 1748. About 1,500 of the estimated 2,000 victims have been found over the centuries. Excavations in 2020 of a villa in what would have been the outskirts of the old city revealed the remains of two men, believed to be a master and his slave. The researchers said the findings confirmed the possibility of retrieving ancient DNA from other victims in providing further insight into their genetic history.
– In the future, many more genomes from Pompeii can be studied. The victims in Pompeii experienced a natural disaster, a thermal shock, and it was not known that their genetic material could be preserved. But that confirms this study, and new technology for genetic analysis allows us to sequence genomes also on damaged material, says Dr. Viva to The Guardian.
Professor Scorrano tells the BBC that there is still a lot of knowledge to be gained in biological studies of Pompeii, including from ancient DNA, which may reveal more about biological diversity over time.
– Every human body from Pompeii is a treasure. These people are silent witnesses to one of the most famous historical events in the world, says Dr. Viva before adding:
– Working with them is very emotional and a great privilege for me.
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