Ancient teeth aid modern health

Ancient teeth aid modern health

Neanderthals walking the earth 100,000 years ago and more recent ancient humans had tartar and dental plaque just like modern folks. Minus the dentist, of course.

At first blush, it’s difficult to see how bad teeth from the Stone Age would have relevance more than 40,000 years after Neanderthals became extinct.

But scientists are now able to extract ancient 100,000-year-old microbial genetic material from the aged dental plaque. And that just might help them unlock some of the ingredients for new drugs in the 21st century.

Fossilized bacteria reside in plaque. German and Harvard scientists say in a recent study that they have figured out how to gather and piece together pieces of bacterial DNA from ancient plaque.

It’s daunting because strands of the bacterial genome are broken into many pieces. One scientist likened putting them together to solving a billion-piece jigsaw puzzle.

But researchers developed synthetic molecular biotechnology techniques to squeeze more complete information from these scattered genetic pieces. In essence, scientists used modern bacteria to produce the chemicals encoded in ancient DNA.

The result? Modern bacteria that produce unique molecules last seen in the paleolithic era.

Molecules in their countless varieties and combinations are the building blocks of modern drugs. So, accessing ancient molecules expands the range of ingredients available to pharmaceutical makers.

The biggest potential benefit might be the development of new antibiotics at a time when antibiotic-resistant microbes are one of medicine’s biggest challenges.

It could become a Stone Age solution to an Information Age problem.

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