Helicobacter pylori from Korean mummies

Helicobacter pylori is gram negative bacterium, infecting about half of the world’s human population. Modern H. pylori strains have been assigned to distinct populations with at least six ancestral origins. Of them, H. pylori infection in Korea is caused by East Asian strains (hp EastAsia).

In addition to the clinical importance of H. pylori, mainly concerning with stomach ulcer or cancer, it is also very suggestive for understanding human population history worldwide that was shaped by migrations and population expansions. By intrafamilial transmission and its long-term association with humans, we can trace complex migrations in human history by observing a phylogeographic distribution pattern of H. pylori.

Although invaluable information very suggestive for understanding human migration history could be obtained by previous studies on H. pylori genome, most of studies were laid focus on the modern people. Only exception to this was ancient microbiome research on the 5300-year-old Iceman from which H. pylori genome was obtained and analyzed very successfully. Even so, the data pool of H. pylori aDNA is still empty. We admit that more trials should be done on the human samples obtained from archaeological sites worldwide.

In this regard, Joseon mummies are very ideal for study on ancient H. pylori. Owing to the superbly preserved condition of Joseon mummies, the stomach, the ancient sample invaluable for studying several hundred year old H. pylori genome, could be maintained perfectly within their body cavities. Our study is therefore designed to see if H. pylori aDNA could be detected successfully from 16th to 18th century Joseon mummies.

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