A new study has found that teeth could be capable of preserving antibodies for hundreds of years, allowing scientists to investigate the history of infectious human diseases.
Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system as a natural response to infectious organisms like viruses and bacteria. Their job is to recognise these microbes so that the immune system can attack them and clear them from the body.
In the new paper from a team led by researchers from the University of Nottingham, published by iScience, antibodies extracted from 800-year-old, medieval, human teeth were found to still be fit enough for scientists to find viral proteins in them.
This expands the study of ancient proteins, referred to as palaeoproteomics, potentially allowing experts to analyse how human antibody responses developed through history.
Palaeoproteomics has already successfully recovered and identified ancient proteins after preservation in the dental enamel of an ancient rhinoceros dating back as far as 1.7 million years ago. In this new study, the authors also found preliminary evidence that, like the medieval human teeth, mammoth bones nearly 40,000 years old appear to preserve stable antibodies.
This science has previously been applied by the Nottingham team to the analysis of other disease-associated proteins recovered from archaeological human bones and teeth to allow identification of an unusual ancient form of the skeletal disorder Paget’s disease.