health day reporter
THURSDAY, July 28, 2022 (HealthDay News) — While the herpes virus that causes lip lesions is common today, it’s been difficult for scientists to find traces of it among ancient remains.
Now, researchers report that they have discovered and sequenced four ancient herpes virus genomes for the first time.
What did they find?
It appears that most cases of herpes in ancient times may have been transmitted “vertically”, from infected mother to newborn, rather than by kissing, a custom first seen in South Asia and which may have subsequently migrated to Europe.
“The world has seen COVID-19 mutate at a rapid pace over weeks and months. A virus like herpes evolves on a much larger timescale,” explained study co-lead author Dr Charlotte Houldcroft, from the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge, England.
“Facial herpes hides in its host for life and is only transmitted by oral contact, so mutations occur slowly over centuries and millennia. We need to carry out in-depth investigations to understand how viruses to DNA like this are evolving,” Houldcroft said in a Cambridge press release. “Previously, herpes genetic data only dates back to 1925.”
The herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) strain, the modern day facial herpes that infects 3.7 billion people worldwide, first emerged about 5,000 years ago, after Bronze Age migrations to Europe from the steppe grasslands of Eurasia, the researchers said. . But herpes has a history dating back millions of years and it infects several species.
“We sifted through ancient DNA samples from around 3,000 archaeological finds and only obtained four cases of herpes,” said study co-lead author Dr Meriam Guellil. , from the Genomics Institute of the University of Tartu in Estonia.
The researchers extracted viral DNA from the roots of the teeth of infected individuals. Herpes often flares up in oral infections and these ancient corpses included two people with gum disease and one who smoked tobacco.
Individuals lived at different times over a period of a thousand years. They included an adult male discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains region. He lived in the Iron Age, about 1,500 years ago.
Two other samples were found near Cambridge. It was a woman from an ancient Anglo-Saxon cemetery a few miles south of town, dating from the 6th to 7th centuries. The other was a young adult male from the late 14th century. He was buried in the grounds of the Cambridge Medieval Charity Hospital and had suffered from what researchers called “terrible” dental abscesses.
The fourth sample came from a young adult male excavated in Holland. They may have surmised that he had been an avid clay pipe smoker, probably massacred by a French attack on his village by the Rhine in 1672.
“By comparing ancient DNA with herpes samples from the 20th century, we were able to analyze the differences and estimate a mutation rate and, therefore, a timeline for the evolution of the virus,” the co-author said. principal of the study, Dr. Lucy van Dorp, of the University. College London Institute of Genetics.
According to the study’s co-lead author, Dr. Christiana Scheib, “Every species of primate has some form of herpes, so we assume it’s been with us since our own species left Africa.” Scheib is a Research Fellow at St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, and Head of the Ancient DNA Laboratory at the University of Tartu.
“However, something happened about 5,000 years ago that allowed one strain of herpes to overtake all others, possibly an increase in transmissions, which could have been linked to kissing,” noted Scheib.
The World Health Organization estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population under the age of 50 now carry HSV-1. Although mostly uncomfortable, it can be dangerous in combination with sepsis or COVID-19.
“Only genetic samples that are hundreds or even thousands of years old will allow us to understand how DNA viruses such as herpes and monkeypox, as well as our own immune systems, adapt to each other,” Houldcroft said.
The research team hopes to investigate even older infections. “Neanderthal herpes is my next mountain to climb,” Scheib said.
The results were published July 27 in the journal Scientists progress .
The World Health Organization has more on herpes.
SOURCE: University of Cambridge, press release, July 27, 2022