Tuberculosis (TB) genomes were recovered from the lung tissue of a 215-year old mummy using a technique known as metagenomics, by researchers at the University of Warwick.
The team, led by Professor Mark Pallen, Professor of Microbial Genomics at Warwick Medical School, working with Helen Donoghue at University College London and collaborators in Birmingham and Budapest, sought to use the technique to identify TB DNA in a historical specimen.
The term 'metagenomics' is used to describe the open-ended sequencing of DNA from samples without the need for culture or target-specific amplification or enrichment.
This approach avoids the complex and unreliable workflows associated with culture of bacteria or amplification of DNA and draws on the remarkable throughput and ease of use of modern sequencing approaches.
The sample came from a Hungarian woman, Terezia Hausmann, who died aged 28 on 25 December 1797.
Her mummified remains were recovered from a crypt in the town of Vac, Hungary.
When the crypt was opened in 1994, it was found to contain the naturally mummified bodies of 242 people.
Molecular analyses of the chest sample in a previous study confirmed the diagnosis of tuberculosis and hinted that TB DNA was extremely well preserved in her body.
The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.