June 27, 2022

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epa09417574 A handout photo made available by the Pompeii Archeological Park Press Office shows a skeleton in a special tomb with a burial chamber in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Italy, 17 August 2021. The tomb features a facade decorated with green plants on a blue background and a room for burial in a period when the bodies of adults were always incinerated in the city. The conditions of conservation of the deceased appear partly mummified, the head covered with white hair, an ear partially preserved, as well as small portions of the tissue that wrapped it. EPA/Pompeii Archeological Park Press Office HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
A skeleton in a special tomb with a burial chamber in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii (Credits: EPA)

Researchers have successfully sequenced the human genome – DNA blueprint – of a man who died in Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Before this only short stretches of DNA from Pompeiian human and animal remains had been sequenced.

Researchers believe this is the first successfully sequenced Pompeian human genome.

The remains of two individuals who were found in the House of the Craftsman in Pompeii were examined by researchers who extracted their DNA.

The shape, structure, and length of the skeletons indicated that one set of remains belonged to a man who was aged between 35 and 40 years at the time of his death, while the other belonged to a woman aged over 50.

While the scientists were able to extract and sequence ancient DNA from both individuals, they were only able to sequence the entire genome from the male’s remains.

Two individuals found in the “Casa del Fabbro” or “House of the Craftsman” in Pompeii. (Credits: PA)

A comparison of his DNA with that of 1,030 other ancient and 471 modern western Eurasian people, suggested that the man’s DNA shared the most similarities with modern central Italians and other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Imperial age.

Further analysis of his DNA identified groups of genes commonly found in people from Sardinia, but not among other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Imperial age.

According to the researchers, this suggests that there may have been high levels of genetic diversity across the Italian Peninsula during this time.

The analysis of his genome also suggests that the man was suffering from tuberculosis at the time of his death. Pictured: the fourth lumbar vertebra affected by tuberculous spondylodiscitis (Credit: Scientific Reports)
The analysis of his genome also suggests that the man was suffering from tuberculosis at the time of his death. Pictured: the fourth lumbar vertebra affected by tuberculous spondylodiscitis (Credit: Scientific Reports)

They also identified sequences that are commonly found in Mycobacterium, the group of bacteria that the tuberculosis-causing bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis belongs to.

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This suggests the man may have been infected with tuberculosis before he died.

According to the scientists, it may have been possible to successfully recover ancient DNA from the male individual’s remains as materials released during the eruption may have protected the DNA from damage.

Vesuvius and Pompeii (Credits: Shutterstock / Darryl Brooks)
Vesuvius and Pompeii (Credits: Shutterstock / Darryl Brooks)

Writing in Scientific Reports, Gabriele Scorrano at the University of Copenhagen, and colleagues, said: ‘To our knowledge, our results represent the first successfully sequenced Pompeian human genome.’

The researchers added: ‘Our initial findings provide a foundation to promote an intensive and extensive paleogenetic analysis in order to reconstruct the genetic history of population from Pompeii, a unique archaeological site.’

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