The team, which includes archaeologists and biologists, recovered and reconstructed ancient Marek's Disease Virus (MDV) sequences from archaeological chickens spanning the past 1,000 years. By comparing viral genomes derived from both modern and ancient birds, they were able to pinpoint the genetic alterations responsible for the increased virulence of the modern virus. Based on the ancient genetic sequences, they were also able to resurrect ancient biological processes using cellular assays, demonstrating that ancient strains were significantly milder than their modern counterparts.
This breakthrough not only sheds light on the evolutionary history of Marek's Disease Virus (MDV), but also holds promise for the development of more effective therapies against this devastating poultry disease.
This new study is based on DNA isolated from chicken bones that were excavated from 140 archaeological sites in Europe and the Near East. These ancient genomes revealed that Marek's Disease Virus (MDV) was widespread in European chickens at least 1,000 years before the disease was first described in 1907. This highlights the importance of preserving archaeological remains, especially given their power to reveal valuable insights into the evolution of virulence.