The genome of a victim of the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius over the ancient city of Pompeii has been analyzed for the first time, scientists have revealed, shedding new light on the health and diversity of those living in the Roman Empire at the time of the DISASTER.
In a study published in Scientific Reports on Thursday, a team led by Gabriele Scorrano, an assistant professor of geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen, extracted DNA from two victims, a man and a woman, whose remains were found in the House of the Craftsman. in Pompeii, a domus first excavated in 1914.
Although the experts analyzed the DNA sequence of both victims, they were able to determine the sequence of the entire genome from the male residues only because of the gaps in the sequences obtained from the female.
Prior to this study, only short sections of mitochondrial DNA from human and animal remains found in Pompeii had been sequenced.
The man was between 35 and 40 years old when he was killed in the violent eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Comparisons of his DNA with genetic codes obtained from 1,030 ancient humans, as well as 471 modern humans in Western Eurasia, showed that his DNA bore the most similarities to modern humans from central Italy and those who lived during the ancient Roman period. . Mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA analysis also identified gene groups commonly found in Sardinia but not among those living in Italy during the empire, suggesting that there may have been high levels of genetic diversity throughout the Italian peninsula. time.
Further analysis of the man’s skeleton also identified damage to one of the vertebrae, and DNA sequences suggest he may have had tuberculosis before his death.
The woman was over 50 years old and is believed to have contracted osteoarthritis.
“That could be why they were waiting for everything to end, perhaps in the safety of their own home, compared to other victims who escaped and whose remains were found in the open,” said Serena Viva, an anthropologist at the University of Salento who was in the study team.
The scientists speculated that it might be possible to successfully recover ancient DNA from human remains, as the explosive material released during the explosion could provide protection against DNA-degrading environmental factors, such as atmospheric oxygen.
The ruins of Pompeii were discovered in the 16th century, with the first excavations beginning in 1748. About 1,500 of the 2,000 or so victims have been found over the centuries. Excavations in 2020 at a villa on the outskirts of the ancient city revealed the ruins of two men believed to have been his master and slave.
The scientists said the findings confirmed the possibility of retrieving ancient DNA from other Pompeii victims to provide further information about their genetic history.
“In the future, many more genomes from Pompeii can be studied,” Viva said. “The victims of Pompeii experienced a natural disaster, a heat shock and it was not known that you could preserve their genetic material. “This study also confirms that new technology in genetic analysis allows us to sequence genomes into damaged material.”