Researchers from the Environment Institute’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) have led an International research team that have used DNA preserved in calcified bacteria on the teeth of ancient human skeletons to shed light on the health consequences of the evolving diet and behaviour from the Stone Age to the modern day.
The ancient genetic record reveals the negative changes in oral bacteria brought about by the dietary shifts as humans became farmers, and later with the introduction of food manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution.
The international team, led by ACAD, where the research was performed, has published the results in Nature Genetics today. Other team members include the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge (UK).
“This is the first record of how our evolution over the last 7500 years has impacted the bacteria we carry with us, and the important health consequences,” says study leader Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director.
“Oral bacteria in modern man are markedly less diverse than historic populations and this is thought to contribute to chronic oral and other disease in post-industrial lifestyles.”
The researchers extracted DNA from tartar (calcified dental plaque) from 34 prehistoric northern European human skeletons, and traced changes in the nature of oral bacteria from the last hunter-gatherers, through the first farmers to the Bronze Age and Medieval times.