Here we propose a first step toward a direct reconstruction of the evolutionary history of human infectious disease agents by obtaining genome wide data of historic pathogens. Through an extensive screening of skeletal collections from well-characterized catastrophe, or emergency, mass burials we plan to detect and sequence pathogen DNA from various historic pandemics spanning at least 2,500 years using a general purpose molecular capture method that will screen for hundreds of pathogens in a single assay. Subsequent experiments will attempt to reconstruct full genomes from all pathogenic species identified. The molecular fossil record of human pathogens will provide insights into host adaptation and evolutionary rates of infectious disease. In addition, human genomic regions relating to disease susceptibility and immunity will be characterized in the skeletal material in order to observe the direct effect that pathogens have made on the genetic makeup of human populations over time. The results of this project will allow a multidisciplinary interpretation of historical pandemics that have influenced the course of human history. It will provide priceless information for the field of history, evolutionary biology, anthropology as well as medicine and will have direct consequences on how we manage emerging and re-emerging infectious disease in the future.
Fields of science
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Funding SchemeERC-SG - ERC Starting Grant