Taxonomic and predicted metabolic profiles of the human gut microbiome in pre-Columbian mummies

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Characterization of naturally mummified human gut remains could potentially provide insights into the preservation and evolution of commensal and pathogenic microorganisms, and metabolic profiles. We characterized the gut microbiome of two pre-Columbian Andean mummies dating to the 10–15th centuries using 16S rRNA gene high-throughput sequencing and metagenomics, and compared them to a previously characterized gut microbiome of an 11th century AD pre-Columbian Andean mummy. Our previous study showed that the Clostridiales represented the majority of the bacterial communities in the mummified gut remains, but that other microbial communities were also preserved during the process of natural mummification, as shown with the metagenomics analyses. The gut microbiome of the other two mummies were mainly comprised by Clostridiales or Bacillales, as demonstrated with 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, many of which are facultative anaerobes, possibly consistent with the process of natural mummification requiring low oxygen levels. Metagenome analyses showed the presence of other microbial groups that were positively or negatively correlated with specific metabolic profiles. The presence of sequences similar to both Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania donovani could suggest that these pathogens were prevalent in pre-Columbian individuals. Taxonomic and functional profiling of mummified human gut remains will aid in the understanding of the microbial ecology of the process of natural mummification.

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