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Dental calculus, a calcified form of tooth plaque, can give detailed information about the diets, diseases and lifestyles of past humans. CHRISTINA WARINNER discusses how she gains new knowledge about the way human beings used to live, what they ate, and how their microbiome has evolved. Dental calculus is the richest known source of ancient DNA in the archaeological record, and it is the only part of the body that fossilizes during life. In this video, she explains how emerging technologies in genomics and proteomics are contributing to groundbreaking discoveries about past human health and diet. By combining genetic and protein data, she describes how ancient infections leave behind sufficient traces to reconstruct entire pathogen genomes, as well as a detailed snapshot of host immune response. She explains how studies of ancient dental calculus will help us understand how our microbiome has evolved and why understanding the human ancestral microbiome may shed light on current chronic health problems.


Christina Warinner is Associate Professor of Microbiome Sciences at the Max Planck Institute for Science of Human History’s Department of Archaeogenetics in Jena, Germany. In 2010, she received her PhD from Harvard University and went on to do postdoctoral training at the University of Zurich (Switzerland) and later the University of Oklahoma (USA), where she co-founded the Laboratories for Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research. Warinner’s research on evolutionary medicine and the evolution of the human oral microbiome has been ground breaking. She and her research group were the first to publish a detailed genomic and proteomic study of the ancient human oral microbiome, and she is pioneering new methods for ancient dietary and human genome reconstruction. These achievements and the research advancements she has made in her field earned her a TED Fellowship in 2012 and an invitation to the White House Microbiome Innovation Forum in 2015.


Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology

The Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology (MPI-GEA) focuses on the interrelationships between natural and human-made systems, looking into the deep past and distant future to examine how humanity has driven the emergence of the Anthropocene – the geological period in which human activities began significantly impacting our planet’s climate and ecosystems – and how we can still positively influence its course.

The transdisciplinary research at MPI-GEA will bring together research areas represented by all three scientific sections of the MPG: Biology & Medicine; Chemistry, Physics and Technology; and Human Sciences. Corresponding inter- and transdisciplinary research projects concern, for example, planetary urbanisation, the global food system, and global material, energy and information flows.

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Original publication

Pathogens and Host Immunity in the Ancient Human Oral Cavity

Warinner Christina, Rodrigues João F. Matias, Vyas Rounak, Trachsel Christian, Shved Natallia, Grossmann Jonas, Radini Anita, Tito Raul Y., Fiddyment Sarah, Camilla Speller, Jessica Hendy, Sophy Charlton, Hans Ulrich Luder et al
Nature Genetics
Published in 2014

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