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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2017 / Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus

Laura Weyrich, Sebastian Duchene, Julien Soubrier, Luis Arriola, Bastien Llamas, James Breen, Alan Morris, Kurt Alt, David Caramelli, Veit Dresely, Milly Farrell, Andrew Farrer, Michael Francken, Neville Gully, Wolfgang Haak, Karen Hardy, Katerina Harvati, Petra Held, Edward Holmes, John Kaidonis, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Marco de la Rasilla, Antonio Rosas, Patrick Semal, Arkadiusz Soltysiak, Grant Townsend, Donatella Usai, Joachim Wahl, Daniel Huson, Keith Dobney and Alan Cooper (2017)

Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus

Nature, 544(7650):357-361.

Recent genomic data have revealed multiple interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans, but there is currently little genetic evidence regarding Neanderthal behaviour, diet, or disease. Here we describe the shotgun-sequencing of ancient DNA from five specimens of Neanderthal calcified dental plaque (calculus) and the characterization of regional differences in Neanderthal ecology. At Spy cave, Belgium, Neanderthal diet was heavily meat based and included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep (mouflon), characteristic of a steppe environment. In contrast, no meat was detected in the diet of Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, Spain, and dietary components of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss reflected forest gathering. Differences in diet were also linked to an overall shift in the oral bacterial community (microbiota) and suggested that meat consumption contributed to substantial variation within Neanderthal microbiota. Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen (Enterocytozoon bieneusi). Metagenomic data from this individual also contained a nearly complete genome of the archaeal commensal Methanobrevibacter oralis (10.2× depth of coverage)-the oldest draft microbial genome generated to date, at around 48,000 years old. DNA preserved within dental calculus represents a notable source of information about the behaviour and health of ancient hominin specimens, as well as a unique system that is useful for the study of long-term microbial evolution.

Peer Review, Impact Factor, International Redaction Board, RBINS Collection(s)

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