Mummies tell tuberculosis tales from the crypt

Hungarian mummy

Researchers sampled 26 mummies from the crypt of a Dominican church in Vác, Hungary, including the remains of Terézia Hausmann, for signs of tuberculosis bacteria. All of the individuals died between 1745 and 1808. 

Gemma Kay

Genetic evidence from mummies from a church crypt in Vác, Hungary, suggests that tuberculosis  victims commonly caught more than one strain of the bacteria that causes the disease, researchers report April 7 in Nature Communications.

In the 18th century, TB was a much more prolific killer than it is today. Around half of the more than 200 naturally mummified corpses at the crypt tested positive for TB. Researchers zeroed in on 26 mummies to sample. Sequencing revealed 12 distinct strains among the mummies, and most carried more than one strain.

All the strains belong to one of the most common lineages found in Europe and the Americas today. The work suggests that lineage dates back to Roman times. 

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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