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.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic11 min read
Why Everyone Should Sleep Alone
The bedroom can seem to contain the heart of a marriage. In the 2012 Judd Apatow movie This Is 40, the epicenter of marital tension is the bedroom of the onscreen couple, played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Pete and Debbie are as comely as their Los
The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
The GOP’s Witnesses Aren’t Helping Trump
If Republicans thought Kurt Volker and Timothy Morrison would bust the Democrats’ case for impeachment, they were likely disappointed by what they heard today.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
Trump’s White-Nationalist Vanguard
The emails of a key presidential aide show an extremist ideology influencing policy in the White House.