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Microbial lipids and their application to study ancient microbiomes and environments

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  • UserAinara Sistiaga, University of Copenhagen / Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • ClockFriday 28 January 2022, 13:15-14:00
  • HouseOnline via zoom.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ruairidh Macleod.

We live surrounded by microbes, they are everywhere, living within and with us. They are essential for our environment and profoundly affect our health by impacting our metabolisms, immunity and even behaviour. Despite its importance, the role of the microbes in human evolution has been historically overlooked, in part due to the challenge of obtaining microbiome data from ancient material. Further, the extent to which human evolution has impacted gut microbiomes through genetic mutations, population migrations and changes in lifestyle is poorly understood. Archaeology potentially offers remarkable insights into the role that these factors may have played in the evolution of the gut microbiome, by studying mummified gut contents, coprolites or latrines. Ancient faecal matter offers the best opportunity to investigate the composition of the ancestral human gut microbiome. Even though recent advances in genomics are radically expanding our knowledge of ancient organisms and their microbiomes, the picture is far from complete as we are not substantially closer to understanding how these microorganisms mechanistically contributed to the host phenotypes due to the difficulty in characterizing the diversity of molecules produced by gut microorganisms

The metabolism of gut bacteria produces specific lipids and metabolites that can be identified from ancient materials. As lipids are much more resistant to natural degradation than DNA and proteins, they can be used to infer the composition of ancient microbiomes. Such relationship has been extensively studied in environmental microbes but not in the gut microbiome. During this talk I will present some preliminary data showing how the study of microbial lipids can be useful to reconstruct the ancestral microbiome and past environments.

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This talk is part of the Pitt-Rivers Archaeological Science Seminar Series series.

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