The cause of death of a child in the 18th century solved by bone microbiome typing using laser microdissection and next generation sequencing

Valeria D’Argenio, Marielva Torino, Vincenza Precone, Giorgio Casaburi, Maria Valeria Esposito, Laura Iaffaldano, Umberto Malapelle, Giancarlo Troncone, Iolanda Coto, Paolina Cavalcanti, Gaetano De Rosa, Francesco Salvatore, Lucia Sacchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The history of medicine abounds in cases of mysterious deaths, especially by infectious diseases, which were probably unresolved because of the lack of knowledge and of appropriate technology. The aim of this study was to exploit contemporary technologies to try to identify the cause of death of a young boy who died from a putative "infection" at the end of the 18th century, and for whom an extraordinarily well-preserved minute bone fragment was available. After confirming the nature of the sample, we used laser microdissection to select the most "informative" area to be examined. Tissue genotyping indicated male gender, thereby confirming the notary’s report. 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing showed that Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria were more abundant than Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, and that Pseudomonas was the most abundant bacterial genus in the Pseudomonadaceae family. These data suggest that the patient most likely died from Pseudomonas osteomyelitis. This case is an example of how new technological approaches, like laser microdissection and next-generation sequencing, can resolve ancient cases of uncertain etiopathology. Lastly, medical samples may contain a wealth of information that may not be accessible until more sophisticated technology becomes available. Therefore, one may envisage the possibility of systematically storing medical samples for evaluation by future generations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 6 2017


  • Cold case
  • Human microbiome
  • Metagenomics
  • Next generation sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Spectroscopy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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