Genome-wide comparison of medieval and modern Mycobacterium leprae

Verena J. Schuenemann, Pushpendra Singh, Thomas A. Mendum, Ben Krause-Kyora, Günter Jäger, Kirsten I. Bos, Alexander Herbig, Christos Economou, Andrej Benjak, Philippe Busso, Almut Nebel, Jesper L. Boldsen, Anna Kjellström, Huihai Wu, Graham R. Stewart, G. Michael Taylor, Peter Bauer, Oona Y.C. Lee, Houdini H.T. Wu, David E. MinnikinGurdyal S. Besra, Katie Tucker, Simon Roffey, Samba O. Sow, Stewart T. Cole*, Kay Nieselt, Johannes Krause

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Leprosy was endemic in Europe until the Middle Ages. Using DNA array capture, we have obtained genome sequences of Mycobacterium leprae from skeletons of five medieval leprosy cases from the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark. In one case, the DNA was so well preserved that full de novo assembly of the ancient bacterial genome could be achieved through shotgun sequencing alone. The ancient M. leprae sequences were compared with those of 11 modern strains, representing diverse genotypes and geographic origins. The comparisons revealed remarkable genomic conservation during the past 1000 years, a European origin for leprosy in the Americas, and the presence of an M. leprae genotype in medieval Europe now commonly associated with the Middle East. The exceptional preservation of M. leprae biomarkers, both DNA and mycolic acids, in ancient skeletons has major implications for palaeomicrobiology and human pathogen evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-183
Number of pages5
JournalScience
Volume341
Issue number6142
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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