Scientists have said that they have taken samples of DNA from ancient skeletons and that they have uncovered the oldest viruses that infected humans. These viruses all represented different strains of hepatitis B. They were uncovered in 15 ancient skeletons; the oldest one belongs to a farmer that lived 7 thousand years ago in what we now know as Germany.
This is a significant finding since the oldest infected DNA taken from human remains was 450 years old.
The evolution of hepatitis B
Researchers say that this finding would help them better understand how hepatitis b evolved over a long period. In today’s world, hepatitis b is still a powerful virus, infecting around 257 million people worldwide and being one of the largest causes of liver cancer. Out of all the people infected, it kills around 887 hundred thousand people each year.
To get the DNA, scientists had to grind human bones or teeth and then take samples so that they could reconstruct the genetic material of the individual. The data collected was sent to the Centre for Pathogen Evolution at the University of Cambridge.
The research done at Cambridge ( made up of Barbara Mühlemann and Terry Jones) covered 304 remains of the people who lived between 200 and 1,700 years ago. Most of these remains did not have anything of interest for the scientists except the skeletons infected with hepatitis B.
This evidence made scientists conclude that hepatitis B was around in Europe and Asia as early as the Bronze Age, which makes scientists better understand the human suffering that took place in the past. Scientists speculate that this virus started to spread when it migrated from apes to humans and then it started to spread even faster since it gets transmitted via human contact. This information is going to help scientists determine how the virus is going to evolve in the future.