External Project Partners

  • Cecil M. Lewis, Jr. (University of Oklahoma)
  • Krithivasan Sankaranarayanan (University of Oklahoma)
  • Richard Wrangham (Harvard University)

Project Funding

This research is joint funded by the Max Planck Society and the US National Science Foundation.

Media coverage

Evolution and Ecology of the Human Oral Microbiome

The oral microbiome is the second largest human-associated microbial community, after the gut, and oral microbes exhibit an astounding diversity of predicted protein functions compared with other body sites. Focusing on a diverse set of archaeological dental calculus samples, this project seeks to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the human oral microbiome by tracing major taxonomic and functional shifts in the hominid lineage.

The oral microbiome, and dental plaque in particular, holds a special place in the history of microbiology. The first undisputed description of bacteria appears in a letter written by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society of London in 1683 in which he describes ‘very many small living Animals, which moved themselves very extravagantly’ within his dental plaque. Attempting in vain to count them, he noted, ‘The number of these animals in the scurf of mans [sic] Teeth, are so many that I believe they exceed the number of Men in a kingdom.’ Van Leeuwenhoek’s analogy is, if anything, understated. The average healthy person carries on the surface of their teeth nearly as many bacteria as there are humans on the Earth, and every day each of us swallows an average of 80 billion bacteria in our saliva. The human oral cavity is thus more than a kingdom, it is an entire world unto itself.

Focusing on a diverse set of archaeological dental calculus samples, this project seeks to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the human oral microbiome by tracing major taxonomic and functional shifts in the hominid lineage.

Related Publications

Schnorr S, Sankaranarayanan K, Lewis CM, Warinner C*. (2016) Insights into human evolution from ancient and contemporary microbiome studies. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development 41:14-26.

Warinner C. (2016) Dental calculus and the evolution of the human oral microbiome. California Dental Association Journal 44(7):411-420.

Ozga AT, Nieves-Colón MA, Honap T, Sankaranarayanan K, Hofman C, Milner G, Lewis CM, Stone AC, Warinner C*. (2016) Successful enrichment and recovery of whole mitochondrial genomes from ancient human dental calculus. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 160:220-228.

Ziesemer KA, Mann AE, Sankaranarayanan K, Schroeder H, Ozga AT, Brandt BW, Zaura E, Waters-Rist A, Hoogland M, Salazar Garcia DC, Aldenderfer M, Speller C, Hendy J, Weston DA, MacDonald SJ, Thomas GH, Collins MJ, Lewis CM, Hofman C, Warinner C*. (2015) Intrinsic challenges in ancient microbiome reconstruction using 16S rRNA gene amplification. Scientific Reports 5, 16498. doi: 10.1038/srep16498.

Warinner C, Speller C, Collins MJ, Lewis CM* (2015) Ancient Human Microbiomes. Journal of Human Evolution 79, 125-136. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.10.016

Warinner C*, Speller C, Collins MJ (2014) A New Era in Paleomicrobiology: Prospects for Ancient Dental Calculus as a Long-Term Record of the Human Oral Microbiome. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20130376. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.0376

Warinner C*, Rodrigues JFM, Vyas R, Trachsel C, Shved N, Grossmann J, Radini A, Hancock Y, Tito RY, Fiddyment S, Speller C, Hendy J, Charlton S, Luder HU, Salazar-García DC, Eppler E, Seiler R, Hansen L, Samaniego Castruita JA, Barkow-Oesterreicher S, Teoh KY, Kelstrup C, Olsen JV, Nanni P, Kawai T, Willerslev E, von Mering C, Lewis, Jr. CM, Collins MJ, Gilbert MTP, Rühli F, Cappellini E* (2014). Pathogens and host immunity in the ancient human oral cavity. Nature Genetics 46(4):336-344. doi:10.1038/ng.2906.

 
loading content