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Friday, December 16, 2005 

Napoleon lice 'n' mites

I've been meaning to blog this paper discussing evidence of louse-transmitted disease in corpses unearthed from Napoleon's army for a few days now, but haven't had the time to sit down with it. Now afarensis has saved me the work.

afarensis notes, however, that they extracted DNA from tooth pulp to amplify B. quintana (a louse-transmitted agent of trench fever), and says,

I will also be the first to admit that I have no idea how the DNA got into the pulp cavity in the first place...

Simple: via the bloodstream. Dental pulp is a living tissue, receiving a blood supply like any other tissue in the body—and any pathogens that are carried in the blood supply can end up there as well. Dental pulp is good for these ancient investigations because since it's surrounded by the tooth material, it's unlikely to be contaminated with other pathogen DNA, and it's more protected from decay and therefore a usable sample is more likely to be extracted. To my knowledge, this was pioneered by Michael Drancourt and Dider Raoult, both of whom are authors on the louse paper; the first publication on the technique was this one on Yersinia pestis DNA, which I'd not a half-hour ago mentioned in the comments to this thread. It's fascinating stuff--Drancourt and Raoult have also used it to examine B. quintana in a 4000 year old tooth, among other projects, which have significantly pushed forward the field of paleomicrobiology.


About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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