Hepatitis B is a severe liver infection that is caused by the hepatitis B virus. If a person should have chronic hepatitis b which means it could last more than six months, a person is at risk of getting other diseases such as cirrhosis or liver failure, according to Mayo Clinic.

While the infection has been around for years as it was discovered in the 1960's, a new study that was conducted by genetics now shows that hepatitis b has been around since the bronze age.

Skeletons Speak

Though there was a vaccine created to treat the infection after it was discovered, hepatitis B has still caused the death of many people. In 2015, 900,000 people died from the infection and 257 million people still carry hepatitis B.

Scientists have now reported that they have recovered DNA from fifteen different skeletons that contain different strains of hepatitis B. The oldest skeleton that had a strain of it was 7,000 years old and a farmer that resided in what is now Germany. 

There were two teams that made this discovery, one was led by Eske Willerslev, who is a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen. The researchers studied 304 samples from human remains that resided in Europe and in Asia. The teams discovered the remains of 25 people had matches for the infection which led to the researchers finding 12 hepatitis B genomes. 

The Process

In order to find the strains of the hepatitis B, Willerslev and his team have to grind the teeth and bones of the skeletons together and then pulled out fragments of genetic material. Willerslev and his team were able to reconstruct the DNA of the individuals. The team also discovered the human genes aren't only found in teeth and bones but also in the waste.

The scientists used a technique called, "shotgun sequencing" where the long strands of DNA are shredded and cloned. The team then turned over the findings to the Centre for Pathogen Evolution at the University of Cambridge for further testing. 

Many researchers, including biologist Hendrik Poinar, a professor at Canada's McMaster University, who wasn't involved in the study.

"One of the really cool things is it shows the presence of genotypes that are no longer circulating today - that is, they have gone extinct. We'd expect this, but to see it is really neat.," Poinar stated.  

Willerslev also commented that this new discovery could help inform experts with the knowledge of these strains should they ever appear again. 

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