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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2023 / Insights on zoonotic diseases in cat domestication through ancient pathogen genomics

Marica Baldoni, Valentina Rovelli, Marco de Martino, Bea De Cupere, Francesca Alhaique, Sonja Vuković, Cleia Detry, Idoia Grau, Lluís Lloveras, Jacopo de Grossi Mazzorin, Claudia Minniti, Marta Moreno, Jordi Nadal, Vedat Onar, Vera Pereira, Nicolai Spassov, Barbara Wilkens, Joris Peters, Wim Van Neer, and Claudio Ottoni (2023)

Insights on zoonotic diseases in cat domestication through ancient pathogen genomics

In: SMBE - Entangled histories: insights into the evolution of humans and their domesticates through paleogenomics, 23-27/07/2023, Ferrara (Italy).

The growing interest in paleopathogenomics and microbial archaeology of the last decade offered the chance to investigate the complex relationships between human hosts and microorganisms, making it possible to identify and characterize the etiologic agents of epidemics in our past [1]. The spread of zoonotic disease in human history was associated with the progressively closer contact with domestic animals[1]. However, the role of animal hosts in the emergence of zoonoses has been only marginally explored, the main focus of paleopathogenomic research being primarily on human hosts. Due to their pivotal role as pest control agents and their long-standing relationship with humans, cats are hosts of several zoonotic diseases representing a threat for human health. Here we present the results of the metagenomic screening for ancient pathogen identification on more than 100 ancient cat remains from different geographic locations (Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia) spanning several millennia from prehistory to historical times. Various bone substrates (teeth, postcranial skeletal elements, and petrous bones) were analyzed via shotgun sequencing and metagenomic screening with Kraken 2[2] and MetaPhlAn 4[3]. By applying strict authentication guidelines, we provide a framework of ancient microbial DNA preservation in cat remains across time and space, discussing the identification of potential zoonotic candidates. The identification of zoonotic microorganisms in ancient animals represents a yet overlooked field of research, which may offer unprecedented insights into zoonotic epidemics and inter-species transmissibility.
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