The Dragon and Microbes: A Bacterial Analysis of Northeastern’s Oldest Book

Presenter: Shaila Saifee

Research Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers and Institutes
College: College of Science
Major(s): Cell and Molecular Biology
Graduation Date: 2022

In this investigation, we examine the multi-faceted relationship between microbes and their environment by culturing, characterizing, and identifying bacteria sampled from NortheasternÕs oldest manuscript, the Dragon Prayer Book. The Dragon Prayer BookÕs microbiome- comprised of over 600 pages bound in sheepskin leather stretched over wood boards and the microorganisms that live within them- offers a unique glance at the morphological effects of long-term bacterial inhabitation. In identifying the bacteria that live within the pages, we can not only draw conclusions about the conditions the book produces for its occupants but also the effects those occupants have on their environment, creating a comprehensive microbial profile for the manuscript. 

The techniques employed for this investigation include culturing the cells at varying conditions to allow for optimal growth, Gram stain, DNA extraction and PCR amplification, and finally DNA sequencing and analysis via NCBI Blast. We can then draw conclusions about the microbial interactions within the pages by cross-referencing bacterial types with morphological observations of the pages on which they were found. 

This microbiological approach was coupled with an ongoing transliteration analysis of the bookÕs contents. Working as a multi-dimensional analytical team, we can contextualize our biological findings with the bookÕs existence and use across time.