ancient DNA, microbiome, dental calculus, metagenomics, biogeography, archaeology
The oral cavity is a heterogeneous environment, varying in factors such as pH, oxygen levels, and salivary flow. These factors affect the microbial community composition and distribution of species in dental plaque, but it is not known how well these patterns are reflected in archaeological dental calculus. In most archaeological studies, a single sample of dental calculus is studied per individual and is assumed to represent the entire oral cavity. However, it is not known if this sampling strategy introduces biases into studies of the ancient oral microbiome. Here, we present the results of a shotgun metagenomic study of a dense sampling of dental calculus from four Chalcolithic individuals from the southeast Iberian peninsula (ca. 4500–5000 BP). Interindividual differences in microbial composition are found to be much larger than intraindividual differences, indicating that a single sample can indeed represent an individual in most cases. However, there are minor spatial patterns in species distribution within the oral cavity that should be taken into account when designing a study or interpreting results. Finally, we show that plant DNA identified in the samples is likely of postmortem origin, demonstrating the importance of including environmental controls or additional lines of biomolecular evidence in dietary interpretations.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Fagernäs, Zandra; Domingo C. Salazar-Garcia; Maria Hadar Uriarte; Azucena Avilés Fernández; Amanda G. Henry; Joaquín Lomba Maurandi; Andrew T. Ozga; Irina M. Velsko; and Christina Warinner. 2022. "Understanding the microbial biogeography of ancient human dentitions to guide study design and interpretation." FEMS Microbes 3, (xtac006). doi:10.1093/femsmc/xtac006.