The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of the most widespread human pathogens known to humanity today it affects over 250 million people worldwide. Now, due to a study at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, scientists have efficiently reconstructed genomes from Stone Age and Medieval European strains of the hepatitis B virus. This extraordinary retrieval of ancient virus DNA indicates that hepatitis B was circulating in Europe at least 7,000 years ago.
A team of scientists from all around the world reconstructed genomes from Stone Age and Medieval European strains of the hepatitis B virus. This astonishing retrieval of ancient virus DNA shows that hepatitis B was circulating in Europe at least 7000 years ago. While the ancient virus is similar to its modern counterparts, the strains represent a distinct lineage that has likely gone extinct and is most closely related to chimpanzee and gorilla viruses. These conclusions point to a complex history of the illness, which may have involved multiple cross-species transmission events.
The result from their study is a new tool to dig deeper and know more about the evolution of blood-borne viruses; it can help mankind to improve modern medicine. Johannes Krause, Senior Author and Director of the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, highlights the most important implication of the study, he said that their study’s results reveal the enormous potential of ancient DNA from human skeletons to allow us to study the evolution of blood-borne viruses.
Previously, there was a lot of doubt as to whether the scientists would ever be able to study these diseases directly in the past; and they now have a powerful tool to explore the deep evolutionary history of viral infections. The findings from the study may hopefully shape modern treatments and mankind’s overall health.