Louse-borne relapsing fever (LBRF) is known to have killed millions of people over the course of European history and remains a major cause of mortality in parts of the world. Its pathogen, Borrelia recurrentis, shares a common vector with global killers such as typhus and plague and is known for its involvement in devastating historical epidemics such as the Irish potato famine. Here, we describe a European and historical genome of B recurrentis, recovered from a 15th century skeleton from Oslo. Our distinct European lineage has a discrete genomic makeup, displaying an ancestral oppA-1 gene and gene loss in antigenic variation sites. Our results illustrate the potential of ancient DNA research to elucidate dynamics of reductive evolution in a specialized human pathogen and to uncover aspects of human health usually invisible to the archaeological record.
Keywords: aDNA; ancient genomics; immune evasion; relapsing fever; vector-borne pathogen.
Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.