Relatively well preserved DNA is present in the crystal aggregates of fossil bones.
ABSTRACT: DNA from fossil human bones could provide invaluable information about population migrations, genetic relations between different groups and the spread of diseases. The use of ancient DNA from bones to study the genetics of past populations is, however, very often compromised by the altered and degraded state of preservation of the extracted material. The universally observed postmortem degradation, together with the real possibility of contamination with modern human DNA, makes the acquisition of reliable data, from humans in particular, very difficult. We demonstrate that relatively well preserved DNA is occluded within clusters of intergrown bone crystals that are resistant to disaggregation by the strong oxidant NaOCl. We obtained reproducible authentic sequences from both modern and ancient animal bones, including humans, from DNA extracts of crystal aggregates. The treatment with NaOCl also minimizes the possibility of modern DNA contamination. We thus demonstrate the presence of a privileged niche within fossil bone, which contains DNA in a better state of preservation than the DNA present in the total bone. This counterintuitive approach to extracting relatively well preserved DNA from bones significantly improves the chances of obtaining authentic ancient DNA sequences, especially from human bones.
Project description:Past claims have been made for fossil DNA recovery from various organisms (bacteria, plants, insects and mammals, including humans) dating back in time from thousands to several million years BP. However, many of these recoveries, especially those described from million-year-old amber (fossil resin), have faced criticism as being the result of modern environmental contamination and for lack of reproducibility. Using modern genomic techniques, DNA can be obtained with confidence from a variety of substrates (e.g. bones, teeth, gum, museum specimens and fossil insects) of different ages, albeit always less than one million years BP, and results can also be obtained from much older materials using palaeoproteomics. Nevertheless, new attempts to determine if ancient DNA (aDNA) is present in insects preserved in 40 000-year old sub-fossilised resin, the precursor of amber, have been unsuccessful or not well documented. Resin-embedded specimens are therefore regarded as unsuitable for genetic studies. However, we demonstrate here, for the first time, that although a labile molecule, DNA is still present in platypodine beetles (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) embedded in six-year-old and two-year-old resin pieces from Hymenaea verrucosa (Angiospermae: Fabaceae) collected in Madagascar. We describe an optimised method which meets all the requirements and precautions for aDNA experiments for our purpose: to explore the DNA preservation limits in resin. Our objective is far from starting an uncontrolled search for aDNA in amber as it was in the past, but to start resolving basic aspects from the DNA preservation in resin and search from the most modern samples to the ancient ones, step by step. We conclude that it is therefore possible to study genomics from resin-embedded organisms, although the time limits remain to be determined.
Project description:Despite the enormous potential of analyses of ancient DNA for phylogeographic studies of past populations, the impact these analyses, most of which are performed with fossil samples from natural history museum collections, has been limited to some extent by the inefficient recovery of ancient genetic material. Here we show that the standard storage conditions and/or treatments of fossil bones in these collections can be detrimental to DNA survival. Using a quantitative paleogenetic analysis of 247 herbivore fossil bones up to 50,000 years old and originating from 60 different archeological and paleontological contexts, we demonstrate that freshly excavated and nontreated unwashed bones contain six times more DNA and yield twice as many authentic DNA sequences as bones treated with standard procedures. This effect was even more pronounced with bones from one Neolithic site, where only freshly excavated bones yielded results. Finally, we compared the DNA content in the fossil bones of one animal, a approximately 3,200-year-old aurochs, excavated in two separate seasons 57 years apart. Whereas the washed museum-stored fossil bones did not permit any DNA amplification, all recently excavated bones yielded authentic aurochs sequences. We established that during the 57 years when the aurochs bones were stored in a collection, at least as much amplifiable DNA was lost as during the previous 3,200 years of burial. This result calls for a revision of the postexcavation treatment of fossil bones to better preserve the genetic heritage of past life forms.
Project description:Large-scale genomic analyses of ancient human populations have become feasible partly due to refined sampling methods. The inner part of petrous bones and the cementum layer in teeth roots are currently recognized as the best substrates for such research. We present a comparative analysis of DNA preservation in these two substrates obtained from the same human skulls, across a range of different ages and preservation environments. Both substrates display significantly higher endogenous DNA content (average of 16.4% and 40.0% for teeth and petrous bones, respectively) than parietal skull bone (average of 2.2%). Despite sample-to-sample variation, petrous bone overall performs better than tooth cementum (p = 0.001). This difference, however, is driven largely by a cluster of viking skeletons from one particular locality, showing relatively poor molecular tooth preservation (<10% endogenous DNA). In the remaining skeletons there is no systematic difference between the two substrates. A crude preservation (good/bad) applied to each sample prior to DNA-extraction predicted the above/below 10% endogenous DNA threshold in 80% of the cases. Interestingly, we observe signficantly higher levels of cytosine to thymine deamination damage and lower proportions of mitochondrial/nuclear DNA in petrous bone compared to tooth cementum. Lastly, we show that petrous bones from ancient cremated individuals contain no measurable levels of authentic human DNA. Based on these findings we discuss the pros and cons of sampling the different elements.
Project description:Metagenomic analysis is a highly promising technique in paleogenetic research that allows analysis of the complete genomic make-up of a sample. This technique has successfully been employed to archaeological sediments, but possible leaching of DNA through the sequence limits interpretation. We applied this technique to the analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA) from Late Quaternary stalagmites from two caves in Western Georgia, Melouri Cave and Solkota. Stalagmites form closed systems, limiting the effect of leaching, and can be securely dated with U-series. The analyses of the sequence data from the Melouri Cave stalagmite revealed potential contamination and low preservation of DNA. However, the two Solkota stalagmites preserved ancient DNA molecules of mammals (bear, roe deer, bats) and plants (chestnut, hazelnut, flax). The aDNA bearing layers from one of the two Solkota stalagmites were dated to between ~84 ka and ~56 ka BP by U-series. The second Solkota stalagmite contained excessive detrital clay obstructing U-series dating, but it also contained bear bones with a minimum age of ~50 BP uncalibrated years and ancient DNA molecules. The preservation of authentic ancient DNA molecules in Late Quaternary speleothems opens up a new paleogenetic archive for archaeological, paleontological and paleoenvironmental research.
Project description:Fossil-bearing asphalt deposits are an understudied and potentially significant source of ancient DNA. Previous attempts to extract DNA from skeletons preserved at the Rancho La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California, have proven unsuccessful, but it is unclear whether this is due to a lack of endogenous DNA, or if the problem is caused by asphalt-mediated inhibition. In an attempt to test these hypotheses, a recently recovered Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) skeleton with an unusual pattern of asphalt impregnation was studied. Ultimately, none of the bone samples tested successfully amplified M.?columbi DNA. Our work suggests that reagents typically used to remove asphalt from ancient samples also inhibit DNA extraction. Ultimately, we conclude that the probability of recovering ancient DNA from fossils in asphalt deposits is strongly (perhaps fatally) hindered by the organic compounds that permeate the bones and that at the Rancho La Brea tar pits, environmental conditions might not have been ideal for the general preservation of genetic material.
Project description:UNLABELLED: In the present pilot study we applied recently published protocols for detecting Mycobacterium tuberculosis in human remains. We screened long bones from an 18th century cemetery and skulls from the anatomical "Weisbach collection" (19th century). In addition, besides the study of abundance of tuberculosis in inmates of the poorhouse itself, we were interested to test whether in this particular instance tuberculosis can be identified from cortical bones, which are rarely affected by tuberculosis, but mostly better preserved than the vertebral bodies or epiphyses. METHOD: The DNA extractions from the bone samples were obtained following established ancient DNA protocols. Subsequently extracts were subjected to a series of PCR amplifications using primer pairs published previously 12. PCR products of the expected size were subsequently sequenced. RESULTS: Only primers targeting the repetitive IS6110 insertion sequence yielded PCR products of appropriate size. In one sample only (skull sample WB354 of the "Weisbach collection") sequence analysis revealed an authentic M. tuberculosis sequence that matched to a reference sequence from GenBank. CONCLUSION: With a variety of established PCR approaches we failed to detect M. tuberculosis DNA in historic human femurs from an 18th century cemetery relating to a poor house in Kaiserebersdorf, Austria. Our data may indicate that in this particular case, thoracic or lumbar vertebrae, i.e. bones that are severely affected by the disease, would be more suitable for molecular diagnostics than long bones. However, the unpredictable state of DNA preservation in bones from museum collections does not allow any general recommendation of any type of bone.
Project description:Ancient human DNA has been treated cautiously ever since the problems related to this type of material were exposed in the early 1990s, but as sequential genetic data from ancient specimens have been key components in several evolutionary and ecological studies, interest in ancient human DNA is on the increase again. It is especially tempting to approach archaeological and anthropological questions through this type of material, but DNA from ancient human tissue is notoriously complicated to work with due to the risk of contamination with modern human DNA. Various ways of authenticating results based on ancient human DNA have been developed to circumvent the problems. One commonly used method is to predict what the contamination is expected to look like and then test whether the ancient human DNA fulfils this prediction. If it does, the results are rejected as contamination, while if it does not, they are often considered authentic. We show here that human contamination in ancient material may well deviate from local allele frequencies or the distributions to be found among the laboratory workers and archaeologists. We conclude that it is not reliable to authenticate ancient human DNA solely by showing that it is different from what would be expected from people who have handled the material.
Project description:Poor DNA preservation is the most limiting factor in ancient genomic research. In the majority of ancient bones and teeth, endogenous DNA molecules represent a minor fraction of the whole DNA extract, rendering shot-gun sequencing inefficient for obtaining genomic data. Based on ancient human bone samples from temperate and tropical environments, we show that an EDTA-based enzymatic 'pre-digestion' of powdered bone increases the proportion of endogenous DNA several fold. By performing the pre-digestion step between 30?min and 6?hours on five bones, we observe an asymptotic increase in endogenous DNA content, with a 2.7-fold average increase reached at 1?hour. We repeat the experiment using a brief pre-digestion (15 or 30?mins) on 21 ancient bones and teeth from a variety of archaeological contexts and observe an improvement in 16 of these. We here advocate the implementation of a brief pre-digestion step as a standard procedure in ancient DNA extractions. Finally, we demonstrate on 14 ancient teeth that by targeting the outer layer of the roots we obtain up to 14 times more endogenous DNA than when using the inner dentine. Our presented methods are likely to increase the proportion of ancient samples that are suitable for genome-scale characterization.
Project description:The invention and development of next or second generation sequencing methods has resulted in a dramatic transformation of ancient DNA research and allowed shotgun sequencing of entire genomes from fossil specimens. However, although there are exceptions, most fossil specimens contain only low (~ 1% or less) percentages of endogenous DNA. The only skeletal element for which a systematically higher endogenous DNA content compared to other skeletal elements has been shown is the petrous part of the temporal bone. In this study we investigate whether (a) different parts of the petrous bone of archaeological human specimens give different percentages of endogenous DNA yields, (b) there are significant differences in average DNA read lengths, damage patterns and total DNA concentration, and (c) it is possible to obtain endogenous ancient DNA from petrous bones from hot environments. We carried out intra-petrous comparisons for ten petrous bones from specimens from Holocene archaeological contexts across Eurasia dated between 10,000-1,800 calibrated years before present (cal. BP). We obtained shotgun DNA sequences from three distinct areas within the petrous: a spongy part of trabecular bone (part A), the dense part of cortical bone encircling the osseous inner ear, or otic capsule (part B), and the dense part within the otic capsule (part C). Our results confirm that dense bone parts of the petrous bone can provide high endogenous aDNA yields and indicate that endogenous DNA fractions for part C can exceed those obtained for part B by up to 65-fold and those from part A by up to 177-fold, while total endogenous DNA concentrations are up to 126-fold and 109-fold higher for these comparisons. Our results also show that while endogenous yields from part C were lower than 1% for samples from hot (both arid and humid) parts, the DNA damage patterns indicate that at least some of the reads originate from ancient DNA molecules, potentially enabling ancient DNA analyses of samples from hot regions that are otherwise not amenable to ancient DNA analyses.
Project description:Salmonid resources currently foster socioeconomic prosperity in several nations, yet their importance to many ancient circumpolar societies is poorly understood due to insufficient fish bone preservation at archaeological sites. As a result, there are serious gaps in our knowledge concerning the antiquity of northern salmonid fisheries and their impacts on shaping biodiversity, hunter-gatherer adaptations, and human-ecological networks. The interdisciplinary study presented here demonstrates that calcium-magnesium phosphate minerals formed in burned salmonid bones can preserve at ancient northern sites, thus informing on the early utilization of these resources despite the absence of morphologically classifiable bones. The minerals whitlockite and beta magnesium tricalcium phosphate were identified in rare morphologically classifiable Atlantic salmonid bones from three Mid-Holocene sites in Finland. Large amounts of beta magnesium tricalcium phosphate were also experimentally formed by burning modern Atlantic salmonid and brown trout bones. Our results demonstrate the value of these minerals as proxies for ancient northern salmonid fishing. Specifically, the whitlockite mineral was discovered in hearth sediments from the 5,600 year old Yli-Ii Kierikinkangas site on the Iijoki River in northern Finland. Our fine sieving and mineralogical analyses of these sediments, along with zooarchaeological identification of recovered bone fragments, have confirmed for the first time that the people living at this village did incorporate salmonids into their economies, thus providing new evidence for early estuary/riverine fisheries in northern Finland.