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Environmental Microbial Forensics and Archaeology of Past Pandemics

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  • Author: Antonio Fornaciari1
  • Editors: Raúl J. Cano2, Gary A. Toranzos3
  • VIEW AFFILIATIONS HIDE AFFILIATIONS
    Affiliations: 1: Division of Paleopathology, Department of Translational Research and New Technologies in Medicine and Surgery, University of Pisa, 56126 Pisa, Italy; 2: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA; 3: University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Source: microbiolspec February 2017 vol. 5 no. 1 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.EMF-0011-2016
  • Received 19 October 2016 Accepted 15 November 2016 Published 24 February 2017
  • Antonio Fornaciari, antoniofornaciari77@gmail.com
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  • Abstract:

    The development of paleomicrobiology with new molecular techniques such as metagenomics is revolutionizing our knowledge of microbial evolution in human history. The study of microbial agents that are concomitantly active in the same biological environment makes it possible to obtain a picture of the complex interrelations among the different pathogens and gives us the perspective to understand the microecosystem of ancient times. This research acts as a bridge between disciplines such as archaeology, biology, and medicine, and the development of paleomicrobiology forces archaeology to broaden and update its methods. This chapter addresses the archaeological issues related to the identification of cemeteries from epidemic catastrophes (typology of burials, stratigraphy, topography, paleodemography) and the issues related to the sampling of human remains for biomolecular analysis. Developments in the field of paleomicrobiology are described with the example of the plague. Because of its powerful interdisciplinary features, the paleomicrobiological study of is an extremely interesting field, in which paleomicrobiology, historical research, and archeology are closely related, and it has important implications for the current dynamics of epidemiology.

  • Citation: Fornaciari A. 2017. Environmental Microbial Forensics and Archaeology of Past Pandemics. Microbiol Spectrum 5(1):EMF-0011-2016. doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.EMF-0011-2016.

Key Concept Ranking

Infectious Diseases
0.728076
Infectious Pathogens
0.5456713
Single Nucleotide Polymorphism
0.47841617
Yersinia pestis
0.4199772
Yersinia pseudotuberculosis
0.4008873
0.728076

References

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2017-02-24
2017-11-19

Abstract:

The development of paleomicrobiology with new molecular techniques such as metagenomics is revolutionizing our knowledge of microbial evolution in human history. The study of microbial agents that are concomitantly active in the same biological environment makes it possible to obtain a picture of the complex interrelations among the different pathogens and gives us the perspective to understand the microecosystem of ancient times. This research acts as a bridge between disciplines such as archaeology, biology, and medicine, and the development of paleomicrobiology forces archaeology to broaden and update its methods. This chapter addresses the archaeological issues related to the identification of cemeteries from epidemic catastrophes (typology of burials, stratigraphy, topography, paleodemography) and the issues related to the sampling of human remains for biomolecular analysis. Developments in the field of paleomicrobiology are described with the example of the plague. Because of its powerful interdisciplinary features, the paleomicrobiological study of is an extremely interesting field, in which paleomicrobiology, historical research, and archeology are closely related, and it has important implications for the current dynamics of epidemiology.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1

Gaussian trend of mortality (per month and as a percentage of the total of deaths) in the plague of London of 1603 and 1625. Adapted from reference 10 , with permission.

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Image of FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2

Issoudun, central France. Mass burial pits of the late 17th/early 18th century. Reprinted from reference 24 , with permission.

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Image of FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3

London. Mass burial trench of the Black Death cemetery of East Smithfield (1349-1350). Photo: Museum of London.

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Image of FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4

Alghero, Sardinia. Mass burial trench of the plague cemetery (1582-1583), courtesy of Marco Milanese.

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Image of FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5

Alghero, Sardinia. Mass burial trench of the plague cemetery (1582-1583), with a familial group, courtesy of Marco Milanese.

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Image of FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6

Benabbio (LU), central Italy. Cholera cemetery, southern sector (1855).

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Image of FIGURE 7
FIGURE 7

The plague cemetery of Les Fédons (1590), Lambesc, southern France. Reprinted from reference 15 , with permission.

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Image of FIGURE 8
FIGURE 8

Marseille. Mass grave pit of the Observance (years 1720-1721). Schematic map with the position of the bodies. Adapted from reference 10 , with permission.

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Image of FIGURE 9
FIGURE 9

Badia Pozzeveri (LU), central Italy. Burial with lime in the cholera cemetery (1855).

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Image of FIGURE 10
FIGURE 10

Natural mortality trend profile ( 79 ) with mortality quotients for different epidemics. Reprinted from reference 80 , with permission.

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Image of FIGURE 11
FIGURE 11

Phylogenetic tree of . Reprinted from reference 73 , with permission.

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