When you think of precious crown jewellery, a 400-year-old gallstone probably isn’t what comes to mind!
However, a team of scientists has found something very valuable inside calcified balls extracted from the gall bladder of a 16th-century Italian prince.
Remains of early E. coli were found to exist, and researchers at McMaster University in Canada have used them to reconstruct the bacteria’s first ancient genomes.
This could serve as a ‘point of comparison’ to provide insight into how the infamous superbug has evolved over the past 400 years.
The findings, published today in the journal Communications Biology, may allow researchers to finally point out that E. When did coli acquire antibiotic resistance?
Remains of early E. coli bacteria were present in gallstones of a mummified Italian prince
Liver and Gallbladder of Giovanni d’Avalos. Gallstones can be seen in a red rectangle, containing fragments of E. coli. Scale bar 1cm. represents
George Long (pictured) is the study’s co-lead author and said, ‘We were able to identify what an opportunistic pathogen was, dig into the genome’s functions, and provide guidelines to help researchers find other, hidden Looking for pathogens. ,
The mummified remains of Giovani d’Avalos were recovered in 1983 from the Abbey of Sant’Domenico Maggiore in Naples along with other Italian nobles of the Renaissance period.
The Neapolitan nobleman, who died in 1586 at the age of 48, is believed to have suffered from chronic inflammation of the gallbladder due to gallstones.
Study lead author George Long said: ‘When we were examining these remains, there was no evidence to say that this man had E. coli.
‘Unlike an infection such as smallpox, there are no physical indicators. No one knew what it was.’
E. coli, or Escherichia coliMay infect organs that contribute to the production and transport of bile, including the gallbladder.
It is able to release an enzyme that can convert bilirubin, a chemical produced during the normal breakdown of hemoglobin, into calcium salts – the first step in pigment stone formation.
As well as contributing to the formation of gallstones, E. coli can cause food poisoning, diarrhea, urinary tract infections and pneumonia.
This is known as a ‘commensal’ – a bacteria that lives within us and can act as an opportunistic pathogen infecting its host during periods of stress, underlying disease or immunodeficiency.
E. coli is also known to be resistant to antibiotics, earning it the title of ‘superbug’.
E. coli (pictured) is also known to be resistant to antibiotics, earning it the title of ‘superbug’.
What is E. coli and why is it dangerous?
E. coli (Escherichia coli) are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals.
Infection can be transmitted through contact with human or animal feces, or by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.
Symptoms of an E. coli infection include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting.
In rare cases, sufferers can develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
It is a condition in which there is abnormal destruction of blood platelets and red blood cells.
According to the Mayo Clinic, damaged blood cells can clog the filtering system of the kidneys, resulting in life-threatening kidney failure.
No treatment currently exists to treat these infections. They usually disappear within a week, but medical professionals recommend rest and drinking fluids to help prevent dehydration and fatigue.
The researchers had to carefully isolate fragments of the target bacterium, which had been spoiled by environmental pollution from multiple sources.
They used the recovered material to reconstruct the first ancient E. coli genome.
However, the research team explained that its full evolutionary history remains a mystery, including when it acquired antibiotic resistance.
Professor Hendrik Poiner, the leader of the research, said: ‘Our past remembers a large burden on epidemic-causing pathogens as the only narrative of mass mortality that stems from opportunistic commensalism driven by the stresses of life.
Prof Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist from McMaster University in Canada, who led the research, said: ‘Modern E. coli is commonly found in the intestines of healthy people and animals.
‘While most forms are harmless, some strains are responsible for severe, sometimes fatal food poisoning outbreaks and infections in the bloodstream. The hardy and adaptable bacteria are known to be particularly resistant to treatment.’
He explained that having the genome of a 400-year-old ancestor of the modern bacterium gives researchers a ‘point of comparison’ to study how it has evolved and adapted since that time.
He explained that the technological achievement is particularly noteworthy because E. coli is both ‘complex and ubiquitous’ – not only in soil but also in our own microbes.
Professor Eric Denmur, from the University of Paris Diderot, said: ‘It was very encouraging to be able to type this ancient E. coli and find that while unique it fell within a phylogenetic lineage characteristic of human commensals that still exists today in gallstones. is producing.’
Long added: ‘We were able to identify an opportunistic pathogen, dig up the genome’s functions, and provide guidelines to assist researchers who were searching for other, hidden pathogens.’
What is genome?
The genome of an organism is written in a chemical code called DNA.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a complex chemical found in nearly all organisms that carries genetic information.
It is located in the cell nucleus in the chromosomes and almost every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA.
The human genome is made up of more than three billion pairs of these building-block molecules and is divided into some 25,000 genes.
It contains codes and instructions that tell the body how to grow and develop, but errors in the instructions can lead to disease.
Currently, less than 0.2 percent of Earth’s species are sequenced.
The first decoding of the human genome – completed in 2003 as part of the Human Genome Project – took 15 years and cost £2.15 billion ($3 billion).
A group of 24 international scientists wants to collect and store the genetic codes of all 1.5 million known plants, animals and fungi over the next decade.
The resulting library of life can be used by scientists to learn more about the evolution of species and improve our environment.
The £3.4bn ($4.7bn) project is being described as ‘the most ambitious project in the history of modern biology’.