The Atlantic

The Oldest Virus Ever Sequenced Comes From a 7,000-Year-Old Tooth

It seems to belong to an extinct lineage of hepatitis B.
Source: CDC / Dr. Erskine Palmer

Seven thousand years ago, in a valley that is today central Germany, a young man lay down to die. He was 25 or 30, and a farmer most likely. It is not known why he died young. But powerful genetic tools have now pulled out a tantalizing clue: the fragmented DNA of a virus that infected his liver all those millennia ago.

It is the oldest virus ever directly sequenced, opening up a new window onto prehistory. For the past decade or so, ancient human DNA from millennia-old teeth and bones has been . More recently, DNA from ancient bacteria—such as and —in those same teeth and bones has. Viruses were always the next logical step. But their genomes are small and sometimes structured in a way that does not hold up well over time.

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