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Journal Articles Infection, Genetics and Evolution Year : 2021

Gastrointestinal parasite burden in 4th-5th c. CE Florence highlighted by microscopy and paleogenetics


The study of ancient parasites, named paleoparasitology, traditionally focused on microscopic eggs disseminated in past environments and archaeological structures by humans and other animals infested by gastrointestinal parasites. Since the development of paleogenetics in the early 1980s, few paleoparasitological studies have been based on the ancient DNA (aDNA) of parasites, although such studies have clearly proven their utility and reliability. In this paper, we describe our integrative approach for the paleoparasitological study of an ancient population from Florence in Italy, dated to the 4th-5th c. CE. The first stage consisted in the study of sediment samples from the pelvic area of 18 individuals under light microscopy. This allowed us to detect Ascarid-type eggs belonging very probably to the human-infesting roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides. Ten subsamples were selected corresponding to five individuals, and we extracted their whole DNA following sediment aDNA protocols. A targeted approach allowed us to detect two nematodes and one trematode aDNA fragments, namely Ascaris sp., Trichuris trichiura, and Dicrocoelium dendriticum. Among the five individuals tested for microscopic eggs and aDNA, three of them showed the remains of eggs (only Ascarid-type), but all of them tested positive to the presence of at least one parasite aDNA. Microscopic diagnosis first guided our research for the selection of promising samples while the targeted aDNA approach significantly improved our knowledge in terms of parasitic diversity and frequency in this population subgroup. These results enabled us to discuss the possible impact of latent parasitism in this past population at the time of an epidemic, as suggested in Florence. In particular, the singular case of D. dendriticum detection is discussed in light of the present-day scarcity of genuine human infections. Nevertheless, actual infections are known in the paleoparasitological record, and food habits may have led to false parasitism in this historical context. aDNA leaching from overlying strata may also explain this detection. This study strongly pleads for a systematic integrative approach combining microscopy and aDNA in paleoparasitology.
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hal-03526941 , version 1 (14-02-2023)


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Kévin Roche, Nicolas Capelli, Elsa Pacciani, Paolo Lelli, Pasquino Pallecchi, et al.. Gastrointestinal parasite burden in 4th-5th c. CE Florence highlighted by microscopy and paleogenetics. Infection, Genetics and Evolution, 2021, 90, pp.104713. ⟨10.1016/j.meegid.2021.104713⟩. ⟨hal-03526941⟩
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