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Variola virus genome sequenced from an eighteenth-century museum specimen supports the recent origin of smallpox


Ferrari, Giada; Neukamm, Judith; Baalsrud, Helle T; Breidenstein, Abagail M; Ravinet, Mark; Phillips, Carina; Rühli, Frank; Bouwman, Abigail; Schuenemann, Verena J (2020). Variola virus genome sequenced from an eighteenth-century museum specimen supports the recent origin of smallpox. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 375(1812):20190572.

Abstract

Smallpox, caused by the variola virus (VARV), was a highly virulent disease with high mortality rates causing a major threat for global human health until its successful eradication in 1980. Despite previously published historic and modern VARV genomes, its past dissemination and diversity remain debated. To understand the evolutionary history of VARV with respect to historic and modern VARV genetic variation in Europe, we sequenced a VARV genome from a well-described eighteenth-century case from England (specimen P328). In our phylogenetic analysis, the new genome falls between the modern strains and another historic strain from Lithuania, supporting previous claims of larger diversity in early modern Europe compared to the twentieth century. Our analyses also resolve a previous controversy regarding the common ancestor between modern and historic strains by confirming a later date around the seventeenth century. Overall, our results point to the benefit of historic genomes for better resolution of past VARV diversity and highlight the value of such historic genomes from around the world to further understand the evolutionary history of smallpox as well as related diseases.

Abstract

Smallpox, caused by the variola virus (VARV), was a highly virulent disease with high mortality rates causing a major threat for global human health until its successful eradication in 1980. Despite previously published historic and modern VARV genomes, its past dissemination and diversity remain debated. To understand the evolutionary history of VARV with respect to historic and modern VARV genetic variation in Europe, we sequenced a VARV genome from a well-described eighteenth-century case from England (specimen P328). In our phylogenetic analysis, the new genome falls between the modern strains and another historic strain from Lithuania, supporting previous claims of larger diversity in early modern Europe compared to the twentieth century. Our analyses also resolve a previous controversy regarding the common ancestor between modern and historic strains by confirming a later date around the seventeenth century. Overall, our results point to the benefit of historic genomes for better resolution of past VARV diversity and highlight the value of such historic genomes from around the world to further understand the evolutionary history of smallpox as well as related diseases.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Language:English
Date:23 November 2020
Deposited On:06 Oct 2020 07:47
Last Modified:06 Oct 2020 07:55
Publisher:Royal Society Publishing
ISSN:0962-8436
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0572
PubMed ID:33012235

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