Identification of strains of TB in skeletons

Ancient skeletons could reveal secrets of disease

Barry Nelson

Source -

New technology that can analyse diseases in ancient skeletons has yielded fascinating results in a study led by North-East academics.

Professor Charlotte Roberts of Durham University's department of archaeology - working in partnership with Professor Terry Brown from Manchester University - used a new system that can scrutinise millions of gene sequences within seconds.

They used the method to identify tuberculosis (TB) genes in a female skeleton from the 19th century found in a Leeds crypt.

Their study is part of wider research into the identification of strains of TB in skeletons spanning nearly two thousands years, from 100 AD to the late 19th century.

It is hoped that understanding how the disease has evolved over time will help improve treatments and vaccines.

TB rates have been increasing around the world since the early 1990s and it is 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 long after the person's death. This helped Professor Roberts find suitable

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 100 of these were chosen for this study.