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DNA Shotgun Sequencing Of Ancient Poop With Parasite Eggs Reveals Diets Of Northern European And Middle Eastern Ancestors

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An analysis of ancient fecal matters revealed what kind of parasitic worms had infected the Northern European and Middle Eastern ancient people. The analysis also revealed the type of food and lifestyle they had during their period.   ( Keith Tsuji | Getty Images )

A new study of parasite eggs on poop dating from 500 B.C. to 1700 A.D. revealed the diet of the ancient Northern European And Middle Eastern people.

A team of Danish and Dutch scientists used a breakthrough DNA analysis called shotgun sequencing to examine the parasite eggs on ancient fecal matters found on historic latrines or toilets. The scientists took fecal samples from latrines in Bahrain, Jordan, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Lithuania. The samples range in age. The oldest sample was from Bahrain, dating 500 B.C., to the most recent in the Netherlands, dating to 1700 A.D.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was able to identify an extensive range of human and animal parasites that reflected what the ancient people ate at the time.

The breakthrough finding will be significant in gaining new insights into the study of parasitism, diet, and survival patterns of ancient people, explains Martin Søe, scientists from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

DNA Analysis Of Fecal Matters

The shotgun sequencing revealed that while parasites egg spread from human to human, more parasites are transmitted through raw or undercooked fish and pork, which the ancient populations consumed.

It also revealed that feces from sheep, horse, dog, pig, and rats — which may have lived in close proximity to these ancient populations — had mixed with human feces through the latrines.

The analysis also revealed what particular food people from a specific region had commonly eaten.

Fecal sample taken from the Danish ancestors dating from 1018 to 1400 A.D. suggested that the people ate fin whales, deer, and hares.

Fecal samples taken from the North Europeans, on the other hand, revealed that the ancestors in the region are fond of eating cabbages and buckwheat.

Meanwhile, the common species of parasites found in the ancient feces are the big roundworms or the Ascaris lumbricoides and the human whipworm or the Trichuris trichiura.

It was also found that the ancient people were commonly suffering from the infestation of intestinal worms until the last century. Intestinal worm infestation was prevalent in ancient people in Europe.

Mitochondrial DNA

Aside from being able to analyze the ancient feces samples, DNA shotgun sequencing has also allowed the scientists to fully reconstruct some of the mitochondrial genomes of the parasites.

Mitochondria are energy-producing structures that are normally found in many organisms' cells.

With this mitochondrial DNA, scientists can further look into the evolutionary relationships and, in the future, hopefully understand more about how ancient parasites spread among their hosts.

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