The impact of the industrial Revolution and the second plague pandemics on modern human health
In the last decade, next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) has truly revolutionized biological and medical sciences. It has opened access to the characterization of the genome variation amongst all living organisms, which revealed, for the first time, an extraordinary rich microbial life, and paved the way to medical treatments adapted to the genes we carry. At the same time, NGS also turned time travel, one of the oldest dreams of science fiction, into reality. By retrieving ancient DNA molecules preserved as traces within archaeological remains, it is indeed now possible to directly travel into the past and sequence the entire genome of past individuals, and even our closest extinct relatives. This opens a direct window into past environments and societies as they were changing. This approach has a far-reaching impact on evolutionary biology and history but also on medicine as not only the hosts’ DNA, but also their epigenetic modifications, their pathogens and microbial selves can now be entirely sequenced. Armed with ancient DNA, NGS, and past genomes, epigenomes and microbiomes, we can thus better characterize the health status of past human groups at key turning points in our history.
HealthTimeTravel proposes to travel back to the 17th and 18th centuries, right at the end of the second plague pandemics. By sequencing ancient genomes, epigenomes and oral microbiomes, we will characterize the health status of three French human groups that lived in villages, small and large cities just prior to the latest major revolution in our recent history: the Industrial Revolution. This will provide new insights into the health consequences of a time period in which the diet, lifestyle, environment and economies of western countries were dramatically transformed, but also into the factors that contributed to shape health in modern societies. HealthTimeTravel will also reveal whether or not our genomes, epigenomes and oral microbiomes, which served our hunter-gatherers’ ancestors for over 95% of our history, are maladapted to the modern, westernized lifestyle. Finally, HealthTimeTravel may also uncover the genetic basis for the strong virulence of historical plague strains, such as those that decimated half of the population of Marseille in 1720. This may prove useful at a time when this disease re-emerges in some of the least-developed countries.
Main coordinator : L Orlando, CAGT