The 2000-year-old genome and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius ~ Antonio Giordano, MD, PhD

Updated: May 30


Pompeii, reproduction of unearthed human figure (not actual) [source: canva]

A unique study, published by “Scientific Report” revealed the DNA content of one of the inhabitants of Pompeii from around 2000 years ago, who likely lived at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Up to now, only fragments of mitochondrial DNA have been analyzed. This DNA is the code contained in specific organelles present in cells and was taken from human and animal remains found in Pompeii. Professor Gabriele Scorrano of the University of Copenhagen and University of Rome “Tor Vergata” is the coordinator of this research study. Professor Scorrano highlighted that the extracted DNA, although degraded, allowed the team of researchers to attribute it to a man of about 35 years, who might have been caught by the lava while he was in a blacksmith’s house. This man was in the company of a woman of about 50 years, but it was not possible to carry out a genetic analysis from her remains. The integrity of the genetic material extracted from their bodies was preserved in part by volcanic ashes covering them, lack of oxygen, and protection from high temperatures.

Subsequent analysis, with the help of a genetic map, showed that the 35-year-old man had lesions in the vertebra and had come in contact with the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis. Furthermore, the researchers hypothesized that the man had suffered from “tuberculous spondylitis”, also known as Pott’s disease, which was endemic during the Roman imperial era.


The researchers then compared the DNA sequence of the man from Pompeii with the sequences of 471 individuals born in modern times and discovered similarities with people from central Italy. Specifically, they identified a group of genes found exclusively in people from Sardinia, thereby suggesting that the study allows the determination of their probable origin.


Research scientist Dr. Serena Viva of the University of Salento and researchers from the University of California (Irvine) and the Brazilian Federal University of Minas Gerais collaborated on this study. This research study certainly opens the possibility for significant developments in genetics, as in fact, this study provides very valuable data that broadens the biological, paleontological, and genetic information in our possession. These results support the hypothesis that in the near future we will probably know the secrets of various diseases during those ancient times.


This blog was also published in Fortune Italia by Dr Antonio Giordano, click here to read.


Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., is the Founder & Director of Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) located at Temple University College of Science & Technology, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA.


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