‘Malaria caused widespread deaths in ancient Roman Empire’


    TORONTO: Malaria was a significant historical pathogen that caused widespread death in ancient Roman Empire, according to researchers who analysed 2,000-year-old human remains from several regions across the Italian peninsula.
    The study addresses a longstanding debate about the pervasiveness of the disease in this ancient civilisation.
    Researchers obtained mitochondrial genomic evidence of malaria, from the teeth of buried bodies in three Italian cemeteries, dating back to the Imperial period of the 1st to 3rd centuries Common Era.
    The genomic data is important, because it serves as the main reference point for when and where the parasite existed in humans. It also provides more information about the evolution of human disease, researchers said.
    “Malaria was likely a significant historical pathogen that caused widespread death in ancient Rome,” said Hendrik Poinar, director of McMaster University’s Ancient DNA Centre in Canada.
    “There is extensive written evidence describing fevers that sound like malaria in ancient Greece and Rome, but the specific malaria species responsible is unknown,” said Stephanie Marciniak, a former doctoral student in the Ancient DNA Centre.
    “Our data confirms that the species was likely Plasmodium falciparum, and that it affected people in different ecological and cultural environments,” said Marciniak, now at Pennsylvania State University in the US.
    “These results open up new questions to explore, particularly how widespread this parasite was, and what burden it placed upon communities in Imperial Roman Italy,” she said.
    Marciniak sampled teeth taken from 58 adults and 10 children interred at three Imperial period Italian cemeteries: Isola Sacra, Velia and Vagnari.
    Researchers mined tiny DNA fragments from dental pulp taken from the teeth.
    They were able to extract, purify and enrich specifically for the Plasmodium species known to infect humans.
    It was a difficult and painstaking process, complicated by the very nature of the disease.
    Usable DNA is challenging to extract because the parasites primarily dwell within the bloodstream and organs, including the spleen and liver, which decompose and break down over time-in this instance, over the course of two millennia.
    Marciniak, Poinar, and Tracy Prowse from McMaster, alongside Luca Bandioli from the Luigi Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome and Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney recovered more than half of the P falciparum mitochondrial genome from two individuals from Velia and Vagnari.
    P falciparum remains the most prevalent malaria parasite in sub-Saharan Africa and the deadliest anywhere, responsible for the largest number of malaria-related deaths globally.
    The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

    Share and Enjoy !

    0 0