Scientists discovered deadly Hepatitis B virus from remains of 4.5 million-year-old man

Skulls are seen inside the recently discovered burial site in Minya
Deadly virus found from ancient man's DNA (Representational picture) Reuters

A group of scientists from University of Copenhagen and Cambridge University have analysed the DNA of a human, who lived about 4.5-million-years ago and found the oldest virus, hepatitis b, which they have successfully resurrected in the laboratory.

Earlier, researchers discovered a mummified body of a small child from Naples, Italy. After conducting an initial study scientists said that the 450-year-old child was buried in the Basilica of Saint Domenico Maggiore and it belonged to a 16th-century boy. After analysing the DNA and bone samples, researchers came to know that the boy died of hepatitis b and scientists claimed that now they can say how ancient the virus is.

But, the new research results are considered as the oldest evidence of the existence of hepatitis b. It showed this virus affected humans for thousands of years earlier than previously believed. The findings were published in the journal Nature, where researchers stated that they analysed the genomes of 304 people, who used to live on earth from seven to two thousand years ago.

SBS reported that Edward C. Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney, "It's a hugely important moment in our understanding of one the most important pathogens of humans."

Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen led both the groups in this research process. In the first study, researchers analysed the genomes of 137 people, who used to live in Eurasia. In the second study, they used the first analysed DNA samples of 167 people and sequenced them in another study. Finally, they found the trace of hepatitis b virus in the remains of 25 people and among those skeletons, one lived 4.5-million-years ago.

A DNA expert at McMaster University, Hendrik Poinar said, "It gives a whole new light on understanding human suffering in the past."

As per Science Daily, another international team, led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Kiel has restructured the genomes from ancient strains of the hepatitis B virus. In this case, also scientists said the virus DNA indicated that hepatitis b was circulating in Europe at least 7000 years ago.

However, hepatitis b is a viral disease, which causes serious liver infection. It could be transmitted through direct blood contact or when these fluids come in contact with broken skin or a mucous membrane of an uninfected person.

This article was first published on May 12, 2018