Category Archives: Yersinia pestis

Mummies, Bones and Ancient Pathogens — The Official Conference Poster

Below is the Official Poster for the Ancient Pathogens Conference in Sardinia, Italy.  More posts on the conference are to come including the full conference program.

And until then, here is a link to a past post on pathogens — My search for the Contagion Sign in Toronto.

PDF of the Poster for Download:  AncientPathogensConference_SardiniaItaly

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Filed under Conferences, Countries, Events, Infectious Disease, JIDC News, News, Tuberculosis, Uncategorized, Yersinia pestis

A Plague of Bones: Conference!

Without a doubt, my favourite research project I have ever been a part of is the ancient Pathogens project. This was my research focus during my Visiting Professorship at the University of Sassari, Sardinia, Italy in 2010. This was my Indian Jones moment, except the treasure was not rare artifacts but the discovery of ancient pathogens.

In Sardinia there is an abundance of ancient and medieval mass graves (see burial map).  Although these mass graves data back more than 3,000 years, the reason for the mass grave construction still remains a mystery.  Thereby a fascinating scientific problem exists:  What did these people buried together die from?

Archeology of Sardinia

We hypothesized that by sequencing the nonhuman DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of the victims in the mass graves, we could identify a pathogen that may have infected these people and caused their death.   Our list of pathogenic suspects that may have caused death included Yersinia pestis, Salmonella enterica, Bacillos anthracis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  This mode of attack, sequencing ancient DNA to determine cause of death, is not new and previous examples include identification of Salmonella enterica enterica serovar Thypi as the causative agent of the ancient plague of Athens in 430 BC [1] and Yersinia pestis as the agent of the Black Plague [2–4] although the later has been disputed [5].   Importantly, mass graves are commonly devised during a disease outbreak to limit the spread of disease, as in Europe during the Black Plague.  Therefore, we speculated that the people buried together in the mass graves of Sardinia died of the same cause, a disease epidemic.  By identifying and studying the causative agent of ancient plagues, we hope to learn about the evolving nature of human and animal modern pathogens so that we can model current and future epidemics.

Since I left Sardinia and my little project, the ancient Pathogen Project has grown enormously.  And that brings us to the announcement of the Ancient Pathogens meeting hosted by Professor Salvatore Rubino in Sardinia, Italy, in September.  The conference is sponsered by JIDC, University Health Network, Shantou University Medical School, Immune Diagnostics and Research, Comune Di Stintino, University of Sassari. This is an exciting opportunity!

Mass grave excavation in Alghero, Sardinia

Titled Mummies, Bones, and Ancient Pathogens, the conference will take place 7-8 September 2012, in Stintino, Sardinia, Italy, at the STINTINO Palazzo Comunale. Over the course of the two days, four sessions on “Archaic and Modern Genomes”, “Evolutionary Medicine, Ancient Pathogens and Pathologies”, “Ancient Pathogens”, and “Bioarchaeology of Sardinia and Sicily” will be held. Several of Europe’s foremost researchers in the fields of Archaeology, Bioarchaeology, the History of Medicine, and Ancient Pathogens are featured speakers, including Prof. Carsten Pusch of the Institute of Human GeneticsUniversity of Tübingen, Germany;  Prof. Bernardino Fantini University of Geneva, Switzerland; Prof. Marco Milanese, University of Sassari; Susanna Sawyer University of Tübingen, Germany; Prof. Raffaella Bianucci University of Turin; Prof. Paolo Francalacci University of Sassari; Prof. Marco Rendeli, University of Sassari; Elisabetta Garau, Unversity of Sassari; Rossella Filigheddu, University of Sassari; and Dr. Alberto Leo Shantou University to name a few. Just to tantalize you, here are some titles of the exciting presentations:

“Archaic Genomes: A Story Written in Neanderthal and Denisova DNA”

“Placing the sequence of “Ötzi the Iceman” in the high resolution Y chromosome phlylogeny by whole genome sequencing”

“Cancer and Infectious Diseases: the Challenge of Soft Tissue Paleopathology”

“Vector-Borne Diseases in Ancient Human Remains”

“The Sicily Mummy Project”

“First Insights into the Metagenome of Ancient Egyptian Mummies Using Next Generation Sequencing”

“Sequencing DNA from Ancient Seeds with Medicinal Properties”

For more information including registration, please visit the conference website  or email Prof. Salvatore Rubino at rubino(at)uniss(dot)it

Reference List

    1.    Papagrigorakis MJ, Yapijakis C, Synodinos PN, Baziotopoulou-Valavani E (2006) DNA examination of ancient dental pulp incriminates typhoid fever as a probable cause of the Plague of Athens. Int J Infect Dis 10: 206-214. S1201-9712(05)00178-5 [pii];10.1016/j.ijid.2005.09.001 [doi].

2.    Raoult D, Aboudharam G, Crubezy E, Larrouy G, Ludes B, Drancourt M (2000) Molecular identification by “suicide PCR” of Yersinia pestis as the agent of medieval black death. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 97: 12800-12803. 10.1073/pnas.220225197 [doi];220225197 [pii].

3.    Drancourt M, Aboudharam G, Signoli M, Dutour O, Raoult D (1998) Detection of 400-year-old Yersinia pestis DNA in human dental pulp: an approach to the diagnosis of ancient septicemia. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 95: 12637-12640.

4.    Drancourt M, Raoult D (2004) Molecular detection of Yersinia pestis in dental pulp. Microbiology 150: 263-264.

5.    Gilbert MT, Cuccui J, White W, Lynnerup N, Titball RW, Cooper A, Prentice MB (2004) Absence of Yersinia pestis-specific DNA in human teeth from five European excavations of putative plague victims. Microbiology 150: 341-354.


Filed under Countries, Events, Infectious Disease, JIDC News, News, Salmonella, Tuberculosis, Yersinia pestis

Amber’s Pick: Light a candle

Hi everyone!  Amber has a very interesting edition of Editor’ Pick this month.  She has summarized three papers from the September issue.  This issue was dedicated to  Prof. Gianfranco Del Prete who was a prominent researcher in basic and clinical immunology with specific contributions in T cell immunology.  You can read a very special Editorial by Editor-in-Chief Salvatore Rubino dedicated to Pro. Gianfranco Del Prete in our September Issue.  Please enjoy her post!


Light a candle

While reading the current issue of JIDC, it was hard to select ONE paper for editor’s pick. Check out the JIDC’s September collection and you will find a feast of three excellent articles that cover many interesting aspects of plague.  The plague is a well-established biosecurity risk and one of the oldest diseases known that has claimed around 200 million human lives. According to estimates, bubonic (characterized by enlarged and tender lymph nodes), septecemic or pneumonic forms of plague cause up to 90% mortality in humans, if left untreated.

Yersinia Pestis Image from CDC Public Health Image Library

The etiologic agent of the disease, Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis) is a facultative intracellular bacterium which enters in the human body either by direct contact with infected rodents or by the bites of fleas that live on infected rodent bodies. Upon entry, the foreplay of Y. pestis through its unique signature LPS (LipoPolySaccharide (Endotoxin)) shuts down the TLR4 mediated activation of the proinflammatory host response and helps the bug to proliferate in phagocytic cells. Picture to the left from Public Health Image Library of Yersinia pestis.

In the article by Amedei et al., you will find the description of the exclusive interaction of Y. pestis with innate immune response. The authors further depict the augmented antigen presentation of the Yop proteins from Y. pestis that directly suppress T-lymphocyte activation which is pivotal to combat bacterial infections. A fine reading of T-cell mediated immunity, effector T-cell function, Th cytokine network and signaling pathways is contributed by Elios et al. The pictorial demos of the articles are just superb and help the readers to comprehend complicated stories. BTW I also love the color contrasts …

Figure 1 from D'Elios et al., JIDC 2011

Coming back to plague story, it’s very important to also be aware of disease prevention. In the third article, Sun et al. describe the issues related to the development of plague vaccines. They further discuss the pros and cons of vaccines that are presently under

Figure 1 from Sun et al., JIDC 2011

clinical trials and those that could be potential candidates in future. The authors also share their own experiences in their attempts to develop live attenuated vaccine using a genetically manipulated Y. pestis strain that does not express virulence genes in the challenging environment of host tissues.

Figure 2 from Sun et al., JIDC 2011

JIDC published these articles in memory of an eminent immunologist and a dear friend, Prof. Gianfranco Del Prete. His contributions to plague research were well received globally.

What could be better to paying tribute to a scientist than to remember him with more exciting scientific discussions! I am still thinking…..

Many people have said, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. JIDC just did the same.



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