Christina Warinner: Tracking ancient diseases using ... plaque | Summary and Q&A

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Christina Warinner: Tracking ancient diseases using ... plaque

TL;DR

This content introduces the research of an archaeological geneticist who studies dental plaque to understand the evolution of human health and disease.

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Key Insights

  • ๐ŸŒ The field of evolutionary medicine aims to understand the origins and evolution of human health and disease by studying genetic research on ancient human remains.
  • ๐Ÿงฌ Extracting human DNA from ancient bones allows researchers to reconstruct the human genome at different points in time, revealing changes related to adaptations, risk factors, and inherited diseases.
  • ๐Ÿ’ก The most significant health challenges today are a result of complex interactions between genetic variation, diet, microbes, parasites, and our immune response, all of which have a strong evolutionary component.
  • ๐Ÿฆด Studying skeletons provides limited health information, while mummies offer geographically and temporally limited insights. Coprolites, fossilized human feces, provide valuable information on ancient diet and intestinal disease but are rare.
  • ๐Ÿ‘ฅ Dental calculus, also known as tartar, is a fossilized material found on teeth that reveals a wealth of information. It fossilizes like the skeleton, is abundant and ubiquitous worldwide, and contains DNA, proteins, and immune components.
  • ๐Ÿงช Applying genetic and proteomic technology to dental calculus enables researchers to uncover commensal and pathogenic bacteria, immune proteins, and DNA related to diet, providing insights into ancient infections, inflammation, diet, and immunity.
  • ๐Ÿ”ฌ Dental calculus also gives researchers virtual access to the lungs and the gut, allowing them to study important diseases that reside in these organs.
  • ๐Ÿ“š Ancient DNA sequencing and protein mass spectrometry technologies applied to dental calculus generate large amounts of data, unveiling the dynamic interplay between diet, infection, and immunity over thousands of years and informing the long-term evolutionary history of human health and disease.

Transcript

Have you ever wondered what is inside your dental plaque? Probably not, but people like me do. I'm an archeological geneticist at the Center for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, and I study the origins and evolution of human health and disease by conducting genetic research on the skeletal and mummified remains of ancient humans. ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is dental plaque and how does it relate to the study of human health and disease?

Dental plaque, also known as tartar, is a fossilized form of dental calculus that accumulates on teeth over time. It contains genetic and proteomic information that can provide insights into the interplay between diet, infection, and immunity in ancestral populations. By studying dental plaque, researchers can reconstruct the evolutionary history of human health and disease, including the genetic code of individual pathogens.

Q: What challenges are faced when studying ancient human health?

One of the main challenges in studying ancient human health is the lack of soft tissue and limited health information available from skeletal remains. Mummies, while informative, are geographically and temporally limited. Coprolites, which are fossilized human feces, offer insights into ancient diets and intestinal diseases but are rare. To overcome these challenges, researchers have begun studying dental plaque, which is abundant, ubiquitous worldwide, and can provide valuable genetic and proteomic data.

Q: What can be learned from studying dental calculus?

Studying dental calculus can yield a wealth of information about ancient populations. Through genetic and proteomic analysis, researchers have identified commensal and pathogenic bacteria, immune proteins related to infection and inflammation, as well as proteins and DNA related to diet. The analysis of dental calculus has also allowed virtual access to the lungs and gut, enabling the study of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases that have long decomposed in skeletal remains.

Q: How can ancient DNA sequencing and proteomic technology contribute to the understanding of human health and disease?

Ancient DNA sequencing and proteomic technology are powerful tools in studying the long-term evolutionary history of human health and disease. These methods allow researchers to generate large amounts of data from dental calculus, enabling the reconstruction of past diet, infection, and immune responses. By examining the genetic code of individual pathogens, scientists can gain insights into their evolution and understand why certain diseases continue to affect humans today.

Q: Why is dental calculus a valuable resource for studying human health?

Dental calculus, or dental plaque, is a valuable resource for the study of human health due to its abundance, ubiquity, and ability to preserve genetic and proteomic material. Unlike skeletal remains or mummies, dental calculus is found in every population and spans tens of thousands of years, providing a wider sampling pool for analysis. Its ability to fossilize, like the rest of the skeleton, allows researchers to study ancient populations in their entirety, uncovering details about diet, infections, and immune responses.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker is an archeological geneticist studying the origins and evolution of human health and disease using genetic research on ancient human remains.

  • They highlight the importance of understanding the complex interactions between genetic variation, diet, microbes, parasites, and our immune response in relation to modern health challenges.

  • The speaker's team focuses on studying dental plaque, specifically dental calculus, which can provide valuable information about ancient diets, diseases, and even access to organs that have decomposed.

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