MHAAM: Death by Contact: Ancient Pathogen Genomes from Epidemics in Early Mexico


Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 5:30pm to 7:00pm


Belfer Case Study Room, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street in Cambridge - Reception Follows

Please join MHAAM on Wednesday, April 11th for “Death by Contact: Ancient Pathogen Genomes from Epidemics in Early Mexico," with Prof. Dr. Johannes Krause, Director, Department of Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany and Co-Director, Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean (MHAAM). Following the talk, comments will be provided by Edward T. Ryan, Director of Global Infectious Disease, Massachusetts General Hospital, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, and Principal Investigator, Harvard collaboration with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Noreen Tuross, Landon T. Clay Professor of Scientific Archaeology, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University. The event takes place from 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm (followed by a public reception) in the Belfer Case Study Room, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street in Cambridge. Harvard parking affiliates have access to the nearby Broadway Garage (Level 3 and up).


Prof. Dr. Krause will present fascinating new research on the following timely subject:


Genome-wide data from ancient microbes may help to understand mechanisms of pathogen evolution and adaptation for emerging and re-emerging infectious disease. Ancient pathogen genomes provide, furthermore, the possibility to identify causative agents of past pandemics and therefore elucidate mortality crisis such as the early contact period in the New World. In order to identify the presence of pathogens in past populations we used a novel high-throughput DNA sequence alignment and taxonomic assignment tool MALT (MEGAN ALignment Tool) and were able to identify traces of Salmonella enterica DNA in individuals buried in an early contact era epidemic cemetery at Teposcolula-Yucundaa, Oaxaca in Southern Mexico. This cemetery is linked to the 1545–1550 CE epidemic that affected large parts of Mexico, the pathogenic cause of which has been debated for more than a century. After application of a specifically designed targeted DNA enrichment procedure we generated genome-wide data from ten individuals for Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar Paratyphi C, a bacterial cause of enteric fever. We propose S. Paratyphi C as a strong candidate for the epidemic population decline during the 1545 outbreak at Teposcolula-Yucundaa and provide evidence that it was likely introduced by Europeans.