University of Oklahoma researchers Dr. Cecil Lewis and Dr. Tanvi Honap have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant (NSF BCS-2045308) for their project “CHOMPER: Calculus and Hominid Oral Metagenomes for Pathogen Evolution Research”.
Oral diseases, such as dental caries and periodontitis, affect nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide, and are often referred to as the “silent epidemic”. These diseases are caused by bacteria found in the normal oral cavity and can cause disease in an opportunistic manner. The core aims of the CHOMPER project are to study how the genomes of these oral disease-causing bacteria differ depending on host species, geographic location, and dietary lifestyle, as well as how these genomes have evolved over time. The CHOMPER team has collected dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) samples from nonhuman primates, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, housed in museums in the U.S., and from archaeological human remains from archaeological sites in the Americas and Africa. These ancient human populations span a period of nearly 10,000 years and encompass the transition of humans from a forager to agricultural lifestyle. Using cutting-edge ancient DNA techniques, the team will reconstruct the genomes of oral pathogens from the dental calculus samples to answer questions regarding strain diversity, biogeography, genome structure, and the presence of genes associated with virulence and antibiotic resistance.
The CHOMPER team also includes researchers Dr. Cara Monroe and Dr. Marc Levine (University of Oklahoma), Dr. Anne Stone and Dr. Brenda Baker (Arizona State University), Dr. Andrew Ozga (Nova Southeastern University), and Dr. Keith Prufer (University of New Mexico). The CHOMPER project has been developed in close collaboration with the Descendant communities of the ancient human populations being studied, which include the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe in the U.S., Mayan communities in Belize, and communities in Sudan. In addition to informing us regarding the evolution of oral pathogens, CHOMPER aims to encourage positive oral health outcomes, especially in these Descendant communities, through public presentations focused on the impact of oral disease and the role of the microbiome in oral health.