October 27, 2017
Dr. Molly Zuckerman will be giving a talk at Georgia State University entitled
HUMAN ORAL MICROBIOMES AND THE HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS: DENTAL CALCULUS, CHRONIC INFLAMMATION, AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN IMMUNE SYSTEM
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
3:15 – 5:00 PM
The Hygiene Hypothesis, first proposed in the 1970s, posits that children in industrialized nations are predisposed to chronic inflammatory disorders or CIDs (such as allergies and autoimmune conditions) later in life because of an increasingly widespread lack of exposure to, and colonization by, diverse macro-and microorganisms. Humans have a longstanding co-evolutionary dependence on these bacteria, viruses, helminths, fungi, and other single-celled organisms; they appear to play critical roles in developing and modulating the immune system. Several studies have highlighted the role of the gut microbiome in immunomodulation, but the role of the oral microbiome has yet to be meaningfully incorporated.
Dr. Zuckerman argues that the oral microbiome likely represents a critical component of this co-evolutionary dynamic, especially as (1) its composition is highly susceptible to environmental influences and (2) it affects oral and systemic health. She provides an overview of studies on both archaeological and modern oral microbiomes, particularly those providing insights into the antiquity of commensal and pathogenic oral microorganisms in the oral cavity. She then presents preliminary findings from her collaborative study characterizing the bacterial composition of preserved human dental calculus from individuals who lived and died at the Mississippi State Asylum in Jackson, MI. Her analysis, the first of its kind, has positively identified multiple species and genera of commensal and pathogenic bacteria and indicates that despite sharing the same institutional environment, each individual’s microbial composition was significantly different. Finally, she discuss the potentially groundbreaking implications of using oral microbiome research to better interpret pathological conditions and reconstruct disease ecologies in archaeological remains, using a recent case study with the Smithsonian’s Terry Collection. These cutting-edge techniques, used within a critical, comparative, evolutionary perspective, will permit bioarchaeologists to make direct, empirical insights into the coevolution of humans and their microbes, and the evolution of the human immune system in contexts of early agriculture, urbanization, and cross-continental contact.
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