Dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) is prevalent in archaeological skeletal collections and is a rich source of oral microbiome and host-derived ancient biomolecules. Recently, it has been proposed that dental calculus may provide a more robust environment for DNA preservation than other skeletal remains, but this has not been systematically tested. In this study, shotgun-sequenced data from paired dental calculus and dentin samples from 48 globally distributed individuals are compared using a metagenomic approach. Overall, we find DNA from dental calculus is consistently more abundant and less contaminated than DNA from dentin. The majority of DNA in dental calculus is microbial and originates from the oral microbiome; however, a small but consistent proportion of DNA (mean 0.08 ± 0.08%, range 0.007-0.47%) derives from the host genome. Host DNA content within dentin is variable (mean 13.70 ± 18.62%, range 0.003-70.14%), and for a subset of dentin samples (15.21%), oral bacteria contribute > 20% of total DNA. Human DNA in dental calculus is highly fragmented, and is consistently shorter than both microbial DNA in dental calculus and human DNA in paired dentin samples. Finally, we find that microbial DNA fragmentation patterns are associated with guanine-cytosine (GC) content, but not aspects of cellular structure.
Open access publication.