The Molecular Revolution in the Study of Ancient Disease


Jane Buikstra 简·拜克斯特拉
Arizona State University 亚利桑那州立大学



Advances in genomics over the past quarter century have stimulated remarkable new interpretations of ancient human diseases, especially their emergence and spread. This presentation will first review the methods by which ancient disease is studied, focusing upon information available directly from archaeological remains, both by direct observation and through molecular approaches, which involve recovering and analyzing DNA of ancient microorganisms. The strengths and weaknesses of both strategies are considered, emphasizing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. Many of the issues inherent in the late 20th century molecular studies have been overcome through 21st century “Next Generation” methods. Recent scholarship that focuses upon diseased skeletons and mummified tissues is also considered with special reference to two of today’s significant global health risks, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

I then turn to information gained through biomolecular investigations of bubonic plague, cholera, Salmonella, treponemal disease (yaws, syphilis, bejel). The “black death” that devastated Europe during the late Late Middle Ages is found to reflect genomes also present in the eastern Mediterranean by the 6th century CE. Disease exchange between Europe and Asia and the probable origins of plague pandemics is reviewed. The retention of tissues in anatomical collections during the 19th century has permitted molecular scientists to explore the evolutionary history of cholera through the genetic characterization of the bacterium Vibrio cholera during the 3rd pandemic of 1852-1860. An ancient disease of colonial Mesoamerica, coclitzli, has been identified as Salmonella enterica through molecular analyses. I next discuss the difficulties in characterizing the suite of treponemal diseases that includes venereal syphilis in archaeological remains and offer a solution. Studies of ancient oral microbiomes inferred from the study of dental plaque are also cited, using evidence that contrasts today’s human microflora assemblages with those of earlier (human) generations.

Finally, I will focus upon the manner in which the genomics revolution has altered our knowledge of the history of mycobacterial diseases, especially tuberculosis and leprosy. Our perspective on the antiquity of the Tuberculosis Complex mycobacteria has changed markedly due to the impact of molecular research, now suggesting that the human form predates the forms affecting other mammals, such as cattle, rodents, goats, seals and sea lions. An evolutionary-historical (phylogeographic) model for the world-wide distribution of tuberculosis is presented, followed by a case study focusing upon early (pre-European) disease in the Western Hemisphere. I close with discussion of how 21st century molecular evidence has rewritten the history of leprosy.




Biographical Sketch

Jane Buikstra (PhD U of Chicago, 1972) is Regents’ Professor of Bioarchaeology and Founding Director, Center for Bioarchaeological Research in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. Professor Buikstra was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1987), and she is past president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association and the Paleopathology Association. She is also president of the Center for American Archeology. Dr. Buikstra has received the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology by the Archaeological Institute of America (2005), the T. Dale Stewart Award by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (2008), the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2008), the Eve Cockburn Award for Service from the Paleopathology Association (2011), an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Durham University (UK), ( 2014), The Lloyd Cotsen Prize for Lifetime Achievement in World Archaeology (2016), and the Lucy Wharton Drexel Medal by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (2018).

Dr. Buikstra defined the discipline of bioarchaeology, an international field that enriches archaeological knowledge of past peoples through scientific study of their remains and archaeological/historical contexts. Her research regions span the Americas and includes the Eastern Mediterranean. She has published more than 20 books and 200 articles/chapters; she has mentored more than 50 doctoral students. Professor Buikstra is the inaugural editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Paleopathology. Among her current research projects she is investigating the evolutionary history of ancient tuberculosis in the Americas based on archaeologically-recovered pathogen DNA.

简•布伊克斯特拉(1972年于芝加哥大学获得博士学位)是亚利桑那州立大学大学人类进化与社会变迁学院生物考古教授,并为生物考古中心创始。1987年当选为美国科学院院士,曾任美国体质人类学家协会,美国人类学协会和古老病理学协会会长。他是美国考古中心主席。他于2005年荣获美国考古协会颁发的考古学科学贡献奖(Pomerance Award);2008年同时荣获美国法医学院美国科学院的戴尔斯图尔特奖(Dale Stewart Award),以及美国体质人类学家协会颁发的达尔文终身成就奖;2011年荣获古生物学会Eve Cockburn Award;2014年获得英国杜伦大学科学荣誉博士学位;2016年,获得世界考古学终身成就奖(Lloyd Cotsen Prize);并于2018年获得宾夕法尼亚大学考古与人类学博物馆颁发的Lucy Wharton Drexel Medal奖章。