The microbial biodiversity at the archeological site of Tel Megiddo (Israel)

Front Microbiol. 2023 Sep 22:14:1253371. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1253371. eCollection 2023.


Introduction: The ancient city of Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley (Israel), which lasted from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, has been continuously excavated since 1903 and is now recognized as a World Heritage Site. The site features multiple ruins in various areas, including temples and stables, alongside modern constructions, and public access is allowed in designated areas. The site has been studied extensively since the last century; however, its microbiome has never been studied. We carried out the first survey of the microbiomes in Tel Megiddo. Our objectives were to study (i) the unique microbial community structure of the site, (ii) the variation in the microbial communities across areas, (iii) the similarity of the microbiomes to urban and archeological microbes, (iv) the presence and abundance of potential bio-corroding microbes, and (v) the presence and abundance of potentially pathogenic microbes.

Methods: We collected 40 swab samples from ten major areas and identified microbial taxa using next-generation sequencing of microbial genomes. These genomes were annotated and classified taxonomically and pathogenetically.

Results: We found that eight phyla, six of which exist in all ten areas, dominated the site (>99%). The relative sequence abundance of taxa varied between the ruins and the sampled materials and was assessed using all metagenomic reads mapping to a respective taxon. The site hosted unique taxa characteristic of the built environment and exhibited high similarity to the microbiome of other monuments. We identified acid-producing bacteria that may pose a risk to the site through biocorrosion and staining and thus pose a danger to the site's preservation. Differences in the microbiomes of the publicly accessible or inaccessible areas were insignificant; however, pathogens were more abundant in the former.

Discussion: We found that Tel Megiddo combines microbiomes of arid regions and monuments with human pathogens. The findings shed light on the microbial community structures and have relevance for bio-conservation efforts and visitor health.

Keywords: MetaSUB; Monumentome; Urban microbiome; acid-producing bacteria (APB); biocorrosion; microbiome; monuments; pathogens.