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PLoS One. 2015 Dec 14;10(12):e0144951. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144951. eCollection 2015.

Retroviral DNA Sequences as a Means for Determining Ancient Diets.

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Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Center for Applications in Biotechnology, Biological Sciences Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California, United States of America.
Center for Archaeological Research, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


For ages, specialists from varying fields have studied the diets of the primeval inhabitants of our planet, detecting diet remains in archaeological specimens using a range of morphological and biochemical methods. As of recent, metagenomic ancient DNA studies have allowed for the comparison of the fecal and gut microbiomes associated to archaeological specimens from various regions of the world; however the complex dynamics represented in those microbial communities still remain unclear. Theoretically, similar to eukaryote DNA the presence of genes from key microbes or enzymes, as well as the presence of DNA from viruses specific to key organisms, may suggest the ingestion of specific diet components. In this study we demonstrate that ancient virus DNA obtained from coprolites also provides information reconstructing the host's diet, as inferred from sequences obtained from pre-Columbian coprolites. This depicts a novel and reliable approach to determine new components as well as validate the previously suggested diets of extinct cultures and animals. Furthermore, to our knowledge this represents the first description of the eukaryotic viral diversity found in paleofaeces belonging to pre-Columbian cultures.

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