Abstract | A molecular portrait of maternal sepsis from Byzantine Troy

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A molecular portrait of maternal sepsis from Byzantine Troy


Affiliation details

McMaster University, Canada; MYcroarray, United States; School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States; University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States; University of Iowa, United States; Tübingen University, Germany; University of California, United States; Biotechnology Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, United States; National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan; Yale University, United States; University of Pisa, Italy; The University of Sydney, Australia; Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Canada

Pregnancy complications are poorly represented in the archeological record, despite their importance in contemporary and ancient societies. While excavating a Byzantine cemetery in Troy, we discovered calcified abscesses among a woman’s remains. Scanning electron microscopy of the tissue revealed ‘ghost cells’, resulting from dystrophic calcification, which preserved ancient maternal, fetal and bacterial DNA of a severe infection, likely chorioamnionitis. Gardnerella vaginalis and Staphylococcus saprophyticus dominated the abscesses. Phylogenomic analyses of ancient, historical, and contemporary data showed that G. vaginalis Troy fell within contemporary genetic diversity, whereas S. saprophyticus Troy belongs to a lineage that does not appear to be commonly associated with human disease today. We speculate that the ecology of S. saprophyticus infection may have differed in the ancient world as a result of close contacts between humans and domesticated animals. These results highlight the complex and dynamic interactions with our microbial milieu that underlie severe maternal infections.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.20983.001