Scanning Microscopy


Morphological types of bacterial remains preserved in ancient tartar of teeth from extinct human groups, which included some communities of coastal gatherers, fishermen, hunters, and farmers, and those practicing a mixed economy, were analyzed. Previous studies have shown the presence of bacteria in ancient tartar. The aim of this work was to determine whether Streptococcus mutans was present in ancient populations (500-12,000 years old). Teeth samples were from ancient skulls obtained from different anthropological collections: the north and south of Chile (before the Spanish conquest), Palencia, Spain, and an eastern Mediterranean region (Levant). Optical microscopy showed Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria. Scanning electron microscopy identified morphological types of bacteria. Transmission electron microscopy enabled categorization of bacterial structures. Fluorescence microscopy helped label and identify S. mutans, using polyclonal antibodies.

Bacterial morphotypes were related to different subsistence patterns. Hunters, fishermen, and gatherers had a less diverse flora with bacillary and coccal morphotypes. Agricultural groups showed greater diversity with additional filamentous and spiral morphotypes. The best preserved ultrastructural feature was the cell wall. The existence and colonization capacity of the mutans-like streptococci preserved in tartar was established for the ancient populations studied, with the exception of Cerro Sotta (south of Chile). Hence, their occurrence could not be related to diet or subsistence pattern.

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