The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus has caused recurrent outbreaks in the Arabian Peninsula since 2012. Although MERS has low overall human-to-human transmission potential, there is occasional amplification in the healthcare setting, a pattern reminiscent of the dynamics of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks in 2003. Here we provide a head-to-head comparison of exposure patterns and transmission dynamics of large hospital clusters of MERS and SARS, including the most recent South Korean outbreak of MERS in 2015.
The Turin Shroud is traditionally considered to be the burial cloth in which the body of Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death approximately 2000 years ago. Here, we report the main findings from the analysis of genomic DNA extracted from dust particles vacuumed from parts of the body image and the lateral edge used for radiocarbon dating. Several plant taxa native to the Mediterranean area were identified as well as species with a primary center of origin in Asia, the Middle East or the Americas but introduced in a historical interval later than the Medieval period. Regarding human mitogenome lineages, our analyses detected sequences from multiple subjects of different ethnic origins, which clustered into a number of Western Eurasian haplogroups, including some known to be typical of Western Europe, the Near East, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian sub-continent. Such diversity does not exclude a Medieval origin in Europe but it would be also compatible with the historic path followed by the Turin Shroud during its presumed journey from the Near East. Furthermore, the results raise the possibility of an Indian manufacture of the linen cloth.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 5 years ago
Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest. We show that the recent decrease in Syrian precipitation is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend, and the unusual severity of the observed drought is here shown to be highly unlikely without this trend. Precipitation changes in Syria are linked to rising mean sea-level pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean, which also shows a long-term trend. There has been also a long-term warming trend in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding to the drawdown of soil moisture. No natural cause is apparent for these trends, whereas the observed drying and warming are consistent with model studies of the response to increases in greenhouse gases. Furthermore, model studies show an increasingly drier and hotter future mean climate for the Eastern Mediterranean. Analyses of observations and model simulations indicate that a drought of the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought, which is implicated in the current conflict, has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.
To determine how long antibodies against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus persist, we measured long-term antibody responses among persons serologically positive or indeterminate after a 2012 outbreak in Jordan. Antibodies, including neutralizing antibodies, were detectable in 6 (86%) of 7 persons for at least 34 months after the outbreak.
A novel coronavirus (MERS-CoV) causing severe, life-threatening respiratory disease has emerged in the Middle East at a time when two international mass gatherings in Saudi Arabia are imminent. While MERS-CoV has already spread to and within other countries, these mass gatherings could further amplify and/or accelerate its international dissemination, especially since the origins and geographic source of the virus remain poorly understood.
We studied antibody response in 9 healthcare workers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who survived Middle East respiratory syndrome, by using serial ELISA and indirect immunofluorescence assay testing. Among patients who had experienced severe pneumonia, antibody was detected for >18 months after infection. Antibody longevity was more variable in patients who had experienced milder disease.
A prospective study of a dromedary camel herd during the 2013-14 calving season showed Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection of calves and adults. Virus was isolated from the nose and feces but more frequently from the nose. Preexisting neutralizing antibody did not appear to protect against infection.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the rich archaeological heritage of Syria and northern Iraq has faced severe threats, including looting, combat-related damage, and intentional demolition of monuments. However, the inaccessibility of the conflict zone to archaeologists or cultural heritage specialists has made it difficult to produce accurate damage assessments, impeding efforts to develop mitigation strategies and policies. This paper presents results of a project, undertaken in collaboration with the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and the US Department of State, to monitor damage to archaeological sites in Syria, northern Iraq, and southern Turkey using recent, high-resolution satellite imagery. Leveraging a large database of archaeological and heritage sites throughout the region, as well as access to continually updated satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe, this project has developed a flexible and efficient methodology to log observations of damage in a manner that facilitates spatial and temporal queries. With nearly 5000 sites carefully evaluated, analysis reveals unexpected patterns in the timing, severity, and location of damage, helping us to better understand the evolving cultural heritage crisis in Syria and Iraq. Results also offer a model for future remote sensing-based archaeological and heritage monitoring efforts in the Middle East and beyond.
Understanding the timing and character of the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa is critical for inferring the colonization and admixture processes that underpin global population history. It has been argued that dispersal out of Africa had an early phase, particularly ~130-90 thousand years ago (ka), that reached only the East Mediterranean Levant, and a later phase, ~60-50 ka, that extended across the diverse environments of Eurasia to Sahul. However, recent findings from East Asia and Sahul challenge this model. Here we show that H. sapiens was in the Arabian Peninsula before 85 ka. We describe the Al Wusta-1 (AW-1) intermediate phalanx from the site of Al Wusta in the Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia. AW-1 is the oldest directly dated fossil of our species outside Africa and the Levant. The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna. A Bayesian model incorporating independent chronometric age estimates indicates a chronology for Al Wusta of ~95-86 ka, which we correlate with a humid episode in the later part of Marine Isotope Stage 5 known from various regional records. Al Wusta shows that early dispersals were more spatially and temporally extensive than previously thought. Early H. sapiens dispersals out of Africa were not limited to winter rainfall-fed Levantine Mediterranean woodlands immediately adjacent to Africa, but extended deep into the semi-arid grasslands of Arabia, facilitated by periods of enhanced monsoonal rainfall.
The Levant is a region in the Near East with an impressive record of continuous human existence and major cultural developments since the Paleolithic period. Genetic and archeological studies present solid evidence placing the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula as the first stepping-stone outside Africa. There is, however, little understanding of demographic changes in the Middle East, particularly the Levant, after the first Out-of-Africa expansion and how the Levantine peoples relate genetically to each other and to their neighbors. In this study we analyze more than 500,000 genome-wide SNPs in 1,341 new samples from the Levant and compare them to samples from 48 populations worldwide. Our results show recent genetic stratifications in the Levant are driven by the religious affiliations of the populations within the region. Cultural changes within the last two millennia appear to have facilitated/maintained admixture between culturally similar populations from the Levant, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. The same cultural changes seem to have resulted in genetic isolation of other groups by limiting admixture with culturally different neighboring populations. Consequently, Levant populations today fall into two main groups: one sharing more genetic characteristics with modern-day Europeans and Central Asians, and the other with closer genetic affinities to other Middle Easterners and Africans. Finally, we identify a putative Levantine ancestral component that diverged from other Middle Easterners ∼23,700-15,500 years ago during the last glacial period, and diverged from Europeans ∼15,900-9,100 years ago between the last glacial warming and the start of the Neolithic.