Viruses, too, are our fingerprint

December 01, 2015

A group of researchers from the University of Helsinki and the University of Edinburgh have been the first to find the genetic material of a human virus from old human bones. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study analysed the skeletal remains of Second World War casualties from the battlefields of Karelia.

Upon infection, many viruses remain in the tissues and their DNA can be analysed even decades thereafter. Although their genetic material has been found in many organs, the researchers show that viral DNA is also present in bone.

"Human tissue is like a life-long archive that stores the fingerprint of the viruses that an individual has encountered during his or her lifetime," describes Klaus Hedman, professor of clinical virology.

The finding has important implications since bone is most likely to be preserved after death, thus opening the door to the study of the viruses that caused infections in the past. In a publication in Scientific Reports, the researchers show that this is indeed the case. They document the presence of parvovirus DNA in the bones of Finnish World War II casualties who remained exposed to diverse climatic conditions in former Finnish, current Russian territory, until recent years when they were repatriated to their homeland.

The study involved bone samples from 106 deceased, and the viral DNA was discovered in nearly half of them.

"By mapping and analysing the viral genes in old human samples, we can deepen our understanding of the way viruses develop and spread. The results can be compared to those with contemporary viruses and their virulence, improving our ability to prevent and eradicate infectious diseases," the scientists explain.

A unique DNA fingerprint

The bones of two of the casualties contained DNA from a type of parvovirus that has never circulated in the Nordic countries. This information, together with the human DNA profiles of these individuals, suggested that they were likely soldiers of the Red Army.

"Such a combination of human and viral DNA can help us both identify the recently dead - making it a new tool for forensic identification or ancestry investigation- and determine how ancient humans migrated around the globe," states Antti Sajantila, Professor of genetic forensic medicine.

The virus- and forensic scientists of the University of Helsinki are determined to explore the viruses that existed centuries or even millennia ago and gave rise to ancient pandemics.

"It would be fascinating to find out what kinds of viruses were circulating in Mediaeval Europe, or how different were the viruses that existed among the populations of South America before the Europeans arrived."
-end-


University of Helsinki

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.