Written By Kevin Kerfoot / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
Scientists report a new method for estimating the biological sex of human remains based on reading protein sequences rather than DNA. The protein-based technique provides superior results to DNA analysis in studying 55 sets of human remains between 300 and 2,300 years old. The method – discussed in Scientific Reports - targets amelogenin, a protein found in tooth enamel,
The three methods for determination consisted of the new proteomic method; DNA analysis; and osteology, or analysis of the size, shape and composition of the bones themselves. All methods were applied to remains from two ancestral Ohlone villages near Sunol, California.
The researchers were able to determine the sex of all of the remains using the new protein method and all but five using DNA methods. Results from osteology and proteomics agreed in almost all cases, although examining bones themselves was only effective for about half the skeletons. The protein method allowed them to estimate sex for children, which is not possible from osteology.
“While gender and biological sex are not the same thing, they are linked, so the ability to estimate sex gives archaeologists important insight when attempting to understand the cultural aspects of gender, which are not as readily preserved,” says Jelmer Eerkens, professor of anthropology.
“Being able to determine the biological sex of human remains provides a greater window into the persona of each individual. Anthropologists are interested in determining biological sex because sex interacts with health and can have a large impact on how people form an identity and are treated within a society.”
Teeth Serve As Archive of Life
Teeth constitute a permanent and faithful biological archive of the entirety of the individual’s life - from tooth formation to death - a team of researchers report. The findings – published in Scientific Reports - provide new evidence of the impact that events such as reproduction and imprisonment have on an organism.
The study tested the hypothesis that physiologically impactful events such as reproduction and menopause in females and incarceration and systemic illnesses in both males and females leave permanent changes in the microstructure of cementum and that such changes can be accurately timed. The research focused on cementum, the dental tissue that covers the tooth’s root. It begins to form annual layers similar to a tree’s “rings” from the time the tooth surfaces in the mouth.
“Our results make clear that the skeleton is not a static organ, but rather a dynamic one,” says lead author Paola Cerrito, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Anthropology and College of Dentistry. “The cementum’s microstructure, visible only through microscopic examination, can reveal the underlying organization of the fibers and particles that make up the material of this part of the tooth.”
“A tooth is not a static and dead portion of the skeleton. It continuously adjusts and responds to physiological processes. Just like tree rings, we can look at tooth rings - continuously growing layers of tissue on the dental root surface. These rings are a faithful archive of an individual's physiological experiences and stressors from pregnancies and illnesses to incarcerations and menopause that all leave a distinctive permanent mark.”
“The discovery that intimate details of a person’s life are recorded in this little-studied tissue promises to bring cementum straight into the center of many current debates concerning the evolution of human life history,” added Timothy Bromage, a professor at NYU’s College of Dentistry.
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With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.