Scientists: malaria epidemics killed the Romans two thousand years ago

Ученые: эпидемии малярии убивали римлян две тысячи лет назад

DNA in the remains of the ancient Romans from various parts of Italy showed that people were infected with malaria and suffered from massive it is already two thousand years ago, according to a paper published in the journal Current Biology.

“There are many references to the fact that the outbreaks of fever similar to malaria, occurred in Ancient Greece and Rome Drawn, but accurate data is the presence of this infection was absent. We have shown that the cause of this fever really was the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, amazing people in a variety of environmental and cultural conditions. It made us think, as has been widely malaria is prevalent in Imperial Rome,” said Stephanie Was (Stephanie Marciniak) from the University of Pennsylvania (USA).

The was and its colleagues under the direction of Poinar Hendrik (Hendrik Poinar) from McMaster University in Hamilton (Canada) have spent several years in genetic “paleontology” – they are studying the remains of ancient creatures or people, remove them from DNA and restore the interesting details from the past of the Earth and humanity.

For example, over the past five years they reconstructed the genomes of plague and cholera bacilli, found that the “black death” plague of Justinian was caused by the same germs, recovered part of the genome of an extinct giant sloth, and also found out what mammoths Chukchi or American – extinct latest.

In his new work Poinar and his colleagues have shown that malaria, whose flash every year, kill nearly a million lives in tropical developing countries is not relatively “new” disease that began to attract the attention of scientists and the public only in the 18th and 19th centuries, and ancient and practically constant “companion” of man.

The first traces of Roman malaria, scientists have found in three cemeteries of times of 1-3 centuries ad, built around the city of Ostia, main harbour of Ancient Rome, built at the mouth of the Tiber in moresubstantial times.

To solve this problem, scientists have resorted to a simple but very effective tricks. The fact that Plasmodium, in contrast to bacteria and viruses, have one similar to person and that are different from us the line in their cells are called mitochondria, a kind of cellular “power plants”.

Mitochondria have their own DNA consisting of a relatively small number of “letters”-nucleotides. The structure of this DNA will be very different for humans and Plasmodium, which was used by scientists to search for its traces in the bones and teeth of the ancient Romans.

As it turned out, the two teeth of the Romans contained traces of mitochondrial DNA of parasites that first pointed to the fact that the inhabitants of the “eternal city” and other inhabitants of the Roman Empire could ill with malaria, and the kind that is now found in Africa. How and why this happened, scientists are still trying to figure out, but they believe that malaria could be much more widespread in the past than it is today.