Two interesting stories on ancient microbes were released in the press today.
The first used DNA to investigate gut microbes found in a well-preserved 5,000 year old “Ice-man” mummy. Somewhat surprisingly, they found Helicobacter pylori, which is known to still inhabit about 50% of the population today. This bacteria was been implicated in causing ulcers and stomach cancer but more recent studies have revealed some potential benefits of this bacteria such as reduced incidence of acid reflux and asthma. Microbe Detectives has actually found Helicobacter pylori in several drinking water samples that we’ve tested.
The second story investigated the incidence of infectious disease and parasites in ancient Romans who have been historically known as ultra-clean people with latrines, bath houses and piping systems for water and sewage. Surprisingly, these researchers found that all the sanitation infrastructure did not seem to reduce the prevalence of the disease in the Romans. As they didn’t know about the existing of microbes or their ability to cause disease they had some unhealthy practices such as placing untreated septage directly on food crops, which may have been a contributor of disease even though they had relatively good networks for water and sewage.