SysGen Seminar – Laura Weyrich – 27th October, 2017

Laura Weyrich

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Andrew Siebel

T: +61 3 8344 0707

Laura Weyrich

The Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide

Friday 27th October
Babel Chisholm Theatre, Babel Building, The University of Melbourne

Lessons from the Neandertal microbiome: how our past impacts our future health

Interpreting the evolutionary history of microbial communities within the human body (microbiota) is critical to clearly understand how microbiota-associated diseases arose in modern humans. DNA sequencing of preserved dental plaque (calculus) from ancient hominin skeletons now provides a unique opportunity to examine the evolution of microbiota and disease through time.  We utilized a shotgun sequencing approach to obtain ancient microbial DNA from the dental calculus of European Neandertals, European, America, Asian, and African humans, and great apes to examine how these diverse microbial communities have adapted to shifts in lifestyle, diet, and environment over the past 40,000 years. We reconstruct the first oral microbiota of an extinct species (Neandertals), and reveal nearly 200 bacterial species shared within ancient hominins. This analysis highlighted marked alterations in oral microbiota as different hunter-gatherer communities on different continents altered their diet, and when individuals move from hunting-gathering to farming practices. Overall, we observe significant shifts in the human oral microbiota likely linked to meat, carbohydrate (sugar), and lactose consumption through time in different environments. Lastly, we reconstructed the oldest microbial genome to date – Methanobrevibacter oralis at 48,000 years old, providing insight into microbial evolution and ancient hominin interactions.  Together, these data provide the first record of human microbiota evolution in real-time, and a means to understand why certain bacterial communities are now linked to disease in a modern world.

Dr. Weyrich received a PhD in Microbiology and Bioethics from Penn State, studying how respiratory infections alter the microbiome. In 2012, she moved to the University of Adelaide and established a research team at The Australian Centre for Ancient DNA that uses calcified dental plaque to reconstruct ancient human oral microbiomes. Her team was the first to reconstruct the microbiome of an extinct species - Neandertals - and has reassembled the oldest microbial genome to date at 48,000 years old. Her team’s research has been featured by the BBC, NPR, Science, Nature, New Scientist, NY Times, Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, and many others, and has even had a Buzz Feed quiz written about it. Her team is now reconstructing the evolutionary history of the human oral microbiome on six continents, obtaining insight into how the lifestyles and diets of our ancestors impact our health today.

Enquiries: Andrew Siebel (