For the first time, researchers have managed to sequence the entire DNA belonging to the remains of a man who died in Pompeii 2,000 years ago.
Preserved by volcanic materials from the eruption of Vesuvius and analyzed with new scientific methods, the genome reveals great genetic diversity in a sick man who tragically died in his thirties.
A team led by Gabriele Scorrano, an assistant professor of geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen, extracted DNA from a man and a woman as part of its search for the first “Pompeian human genome,” according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The bodies were first recovered in 1933 from what Pompeii archeologists have called Casa del Fabbro, or The Craftman’s House.
They were found slumped in the corner of the dining room as if they were having lunch when the volcano erupted on Aug. 24, 79 A.D.
DNA analysis shows Pompeii man suffered from tuberculosis
“From the positions [of their bodies] it seems they were not running away,” Viva told the BBC. “The answer to why they weren’t fleeing could lie in their health conditions.”
Analysis found the man was between 35 and 40 years old and about 5 feet and 3 inches tall while the woman was 50 years old and about 5 feet tall.
The genetic study found that the man’s skeleton contained DNA sequences that suggested he may have had tuberculosis before his death while the woman is believed to have been affected by osteoarthritis.
“This could have been the reason for which they waited for it all to finish, maybe in the security of their home, compared to other victims who were fleeing and whose remains were found in open spaces,” Viva said.
Technology in genetic analysis allows scientists to sequence genomes
The scientists were only able to sequence the entire genome from the man due to gaps in the genome of the woman, resulting in a near-complete set of “genetic instructions” encoded in DNA extracted from their bodies.
“In the future, many more genomes from Pompeii can be studied,” Serena Viva, an archaeologist from the University of Salento and a member of the study team, told The Guardian.
“The victims of Pompeii experienced a natural catastrophe, a thermal shock, and it was not known that you could preserve their genetic material. This study provides this confirmation, and that new technology on genetic analysis allows us to sequence genomes also on damaged material,” Viva said.