Samples from 200-year old mummy help shed light on recent TB outbreaks

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Researchers in the UK have recovered tuberculosis (TB) genomes from the lung tissue of a 215-year old mummy.

A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, details how scientists used a technique called metagenomics to analyse DNA from a historical specimen.

The sample came from a Hungarian woman, Terézia Hausmann, who died aged 28 on 25 December 1797. Her mummified remains were recovered from a crypt in the town of Vác, Hungary.

Professor Pallen, lead author of the study, explained the importance of the breakthrough: “Most other attempts to recover DNA sequences from historical or ancient samples have suffered from the risk of contamination, because they rely on amplification of DNA in the laboratory. The beauty of metagenomics is that it provides a simple but highly informative approach that works in a wide variety of contexts.

Professor Pallen added, “It was fascinating to see the similarities between the TB genome sequences we recovered and the genome of a recent outbreak strain in Germany. In this case, metagenomes revealed that some strain lineages have been circulating in Europe for more than two centuries.”

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