Science is full of crazy, and scary, facts and finds. One of the most terrifying finds that we have heard of and come across, though, is this recent one. You see, scientists are always up to crazy things that we usually don’t hear about until they find a proven result.
Well, scientists just found the oldest known human virus – Hepatitis B – in a 4,500-year-old skeleton!
The skeleton hails from the Bronze Ages and helps to provide some key evidence for what is presently the oldest known virus for humanity. While now a dead strain of the virus, it was once upon a time a major threat to the world – and likely was a fatal part of the Bronze Age’ health demographic. So far, the oldest human virus that had been proven and detected was around 450 years old; the average, for reference, is around 50 years.
This sample, though, came from large parts of Eurasia and the massive collection of bone samples contained Hepatitis B in there. Indeed, it was found in around 25 of the 300 bodies which were checked. Some bodies were Bronze Age, while others were from the medieval times. Around 12 of those skeletons came with enough viral genetic code for it to be further studied and analyzed.
It was under that closer inspection that more was found out about the condition of the bodies. Indeed, the oldest, hailing from Osterhofen in Germany, was around 4,488 years old. This incredible body was studied by Cambridge University Professor Dr Terry Jones. Jones said that: “Scientists mostly study modern virus strains and we have mainly been in the dark regarding ancient sequences – until now. It was like trying to study evolution without fossils.
“If we only studied the animals living today it would give us a very inaccurate picture of their evolution. It is the same with viruses.”
Today, Hepatitis B affects many people, and is associated with many other conditions. Indeed, a whopping 257 million people were estimated to be suffering from chronic HBV in the world today. If you wish to find out more about it, you should look into the latest copy of Nature, a popular journal.
Alongside Jones is Barbara Muhlemann, who is a PhD student at Cambridge and the co-lead on the study. She said that: “People have tried to unravel the history of HBV for decades. This study transforms our understanding of the virus and proves it affected people as far back as the Bronze Age.
“We have also shown that it is possible to recover viral sequences from samples of this age which will have much wider scientific implications.”
Among many other interesting parts of this discovery is the fact that we can now definitively say that viruses can die out and go extinct. With proof hard to maintain in the past, this is the perfect case study to follow about the potential extinction of strains of viruses.
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