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Article

Plant DNA Barcode as a Tool for Root Identification in Hypogea: The Case of the Etruscan Tombs of Tarquinia (Central Italy)

1
Department of Sciences, Roma Tre University, 00146 Rome, Italy
2
Department of Ecological and Biological Sciences (DEB), University of Tuscia, 01100 Viterbo, Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Plants 2021, 10(6), 1138; https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10061138
Received: 26 April 2021 / Revised: 30 May 2021 / Accepted: 1 June 2021 / Published: 3 June 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plant Genosystematics)

Abstract

:
Roots can produce mechanical and chemical alterations to building structures, especially in the case of underground historical artifacts. In archaeological sites, where vegetation plays the dual role of naturalistic relevance and potential threat, trees and bushes are under supervision. No customized measures can be taken against herbaceous plants lacking fast and reliable root identification methods that are useful to assess their dangerousness. In this study, we aimed to test the efficacy of DNA barcoding in identifying plant rootlets threatening the Etruscan tombs of the Necropolis of Tarquinia. As DNA barcode markers, we selected two sections of the genes rbcL and matK, the nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (nrITS), and the intergenic spacer psbA-trnH. All fourteen root samples were successfully sequenced and identified at species (92.9%) and genus level (7.01%) by GenBank matching and reference dataset implementation. Some eudicotyledons with taproots, such as Echium italicum L., Foeniculum vulgare Mill., and Reseda lutea L. subsp. lutea, showed a certain recurrence. Further investigations are needed to confirm this promising result, increasing the number of roots and enlarging the reference dataset with attention to meso-Mediterranean perennial herbaceous species. The finding of herbaceous plants roots at more than 3 m deep confirms their potential risk and underlines the importance of vegetation planning, monitoring, and management on archaeological sites.

Graphical Abstract

1. Introduction

Vegetation plays a dual role on archaeological sites. Plants contribute significantly to the characterization of landscapes, enhancing their naturalistic, ecological, and cultural value [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]. However, vascular plants, especially trees, can seriously threaten the conservation of ancient monuments as they can directly colonize walls and damage structures by root expansion [1,9,10,11,12,13,14,15]. This risk can be highly relevant in the case of underground ruins as there might be a short distance between the buried archaeological structures and the vegetated ground level. Damages caused by roots have been reported for hypogeal tombs, including the Christian and Jewish catacombs [16], Mithraea, temples, and underground villas such as the Domus Aurea [17,18] and the Domus Tiberiana in Rome [19]. Roots with their growth may produce mechanical and chemical damages on foundations, mortars, plasters, walls, and frescoes [15,16,20,21], even dislodging large stones and weakening the mineral wall matrix and masonry texture by the release of chemical compounds [15]. Moreover, roots can be considered particularly detrimental in hypogea since they may favor water penetration (Figure 3E,F) and affect the internal microbial community [22,23]. Several studies evidenced that roots can modify the diversity and richness of the resident community into this fragile oligotrophic environment. Roots carrying exogenous rhizosphere microorganisms and organic carbon sources (as root litter and exudates) [24,25,26] can favor the growth and spread of detrimental heterotrophs.
The control of vegetation on archaeological sites has been addressed by several authors since the 1980s [1,11,17,27,28]. Particular attention has been paid to the classification of risk assessment tied to individual plant species and plant communities starting from species identification and information on relevant plant elements such as life form (according to Raunkiær), invasiveness, size, shape, and vigor of roots [29]. In this light, a hazard index (HI) ranging from 0 to 10 is assigned to each species. Recently, the ecological characteristics of the different plants in response to diverse micro-environmental (i.e., exposure and inclination) and micro-edaphic conditions (i.e., soil availability and composition) have been considered as additional parameters in the risk assessment [8,12].
Plant identification represents the basic step for the risk assessment, aimed to design a vegetation control plan with periodic monitoring and checks for undesired growth on archaeological sites [9]. Trees and bushes are given special attention on these sites, and their lignified roots can be identified through morpho-anatomical characters supported by the comparison with the nearby aboveground plant species [16,17]. However, morpho-anatomical identification is sometimes time-consuming and may be difficult when immature or ruined specimens lack one or more fundamental characters for their taxonomical identification [30]. In the case of primary roots, the identification is much more complex due to the substantial similarities of the stele organization among the different species. Moreover, the root system is affected by phenotypic plasticity so plants with identical genotypes adapt and modify their root system architectures based on the biotic and abiotic environmental factors [31]. Concerning the root penetration of herbaceous species and their architecture, very few data exist, limited to some important reviews [32,33]. Attempts to identify primary roots have been performed for the Etruscan tombs in Latium and Tuscany, where root penetration represents an enduring problem [2,23,34,35,36,37]. For example, cultures of root meristems, coupled with the analysis of the aboveground vegetation, were performed, but the limitations and difficulties of such methods were stressed [37].
In the last 15 years, DNA barcoding has become a primary tool for fast species identification. DNA sequence data from standard genome regions are routinely used in several applications: biomonitoring, invasive species identification, food fraud, forensics, etc. [38,39,40,41,42]. Although the nuclear Internal Transcribed Spacer (ITS) and the mitochondrial cox1 gene (Cytochrome c oxidase I) are universally used for fungi and animals, respectively, there is no strong consensus on which DNA regions should be used for plants (Fourth International Barcode of Life Conference, www.dnabarcodes2011.org, accessed on 6 January 2021). Two plastid coding regions, rbcL and matK, were suggested as a core-barcode for plants by the Plant Working Group of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life [43,44,45]. However, due to their differential discriminatory power across taxa, additional regions were also recommended, such as the plastid intergenic spacer psbA-trnH and the rapidly evolving Internal Transcribed Spacers (ITS) of nuclear ribosomal DNA [43,44,45,46,47,48,49]. As such, it is useful for a closer evaluation of the power and possible limits of this method.
We aimed to evaluate the power of the DNA barcode method in identifying higher plants starting from herbaceous roots and to test its application in the cultural heritage field, for the first time. The use of this method potentially has a great relevance when roots occur in underground layers and only roots are available for the identification of the plant species (i.e., when the aerial parts of a plant are not developed or visible). In the frame of an international cooperation project focused on biodeterioration and conservation of underground monuments, we analyzed the Necropolis of Monterozzi in Tarquinia (central Italy), where many painted hypogeal tombs are threatened from the penetration of rootlets and, consequently, are in need of conservation actions.

2. Results

2.1. DNA Marker Performances and Root Identification

We obtained readable sequences from all 14 root extracts (Table S1), belonging to eight genera. Overall, 78.57% of the samples were successfully sequenced for all the chosen molecular markers (Figure 3A). The matK target gene was more difficult to be amplified than others, as it was frequently necessary to repeat the amplifications using different primer sets. Nevertheless, 7.14% matK PCR resulted as negative. The highest incidence of successful sequencing was recorded with the psbA-trnH target (13 out of 14). As for drawbacks, using primers for ITS and rbcL regions (one time each), portions of fungal and mitochondrial genome were amplified (Figure 1 and Table 1). Figure 2B shows that technical factors, namely GenBank missing data and failure in PCR/sequencing, affected the contribution of each marker gene in the sample identification. Marker features such as the ability, or not, to return a single best match were also considered (recorded as “no contribution”, Figure 2B). In this light, it is possible to note each marker contribution in root identification at the species level. ITS was useful for the species identification in 85.71% of the cases, followed by psbA-trnH and matK with 64.29% and 35.71%, respectively. The rbcL sequences, not returning a sole best match, were not useful for species identification in 71.43% of the cases, while matK always returned a single species as the best match, even if this was not resolutive for Samples C1 and M1 (Table 1). A perfect match (100%) was recorded for Reseda crystallina Webb & Berthel. and an almost perfect match (99.83%) for Reseda lutea L.; however, as this match was in contrast with the results achieved by ITS and psbA-trnH sequences (Table 1), it was considered not reliable.
As reported in Table 1, GenBank BLAST comparison was fruitful in identifying Foeniculum vulgare Mill. (21.4% of samples; Samples H2, CP01, and CP02), Echium italicum L. (14.3% of roots processed; Samples M2 and 02), Sinapis alba L. (Sample D4), and Reseda lutea (14.3% of samples; Samples C1 and M1). Further investigations are needed for the identification of the remaining root samples belonging to the genera Centaurea (Samples C2, LT01, and LT3, possibly Centaurea aspera L.), Brassica (Sample F1), Verbascum (Samples F3), and Seseli (Sample 01). The recurrence of some species was also evidenced.

2.2. Integrated Taxonomic Identification Method

BLASTn best matches (Table 1) were merged with local flora data to remove the alien species. This was the case of Reseda crystallina, which was previously considered not reliable despite the perfect match obtained (100%, matk, Samples M1 and C1) and now definitively discarded because does not belong to the Italian flora.
The genera of interest are not fully represented in the GenBank database (Figure 2 and Table S2). The highest number of sequences was recorded for the nuclear ITS, covering 58.02% of the local species, followed by rbcL, matk, and the intergenic psbA-trnH spacer with 33.33%, 32.10%, and 18.52%, respectively (Figure 2A). The poor representation of the local flora became more evident by genera. For example, 51.61% of Centaurea local species and subspecies are represented in GenBank with at least a single record each, and even lower is the occurrence for Seseli (33.33%) (Table S2). Local flora represented by at least two molecular markers per species ranges from 38.8% for Verbascum to 0% for Seseli. No sequences for the psbA-trnH intergenic spacer are present for Seseli (Figure 2B).
The six plants taken in the field, namely Centaurea aspera L. subsp. aspera, Reseda lutea L. subsp. lutea, Seseli tortuosum L. subsp. tortuosum, Verbascum sinuatum L., and two Diplotaxis (D. erucoides (L.) DC. and D. tenuifolia (L) DC.), were sequenced for all considered targets (except V. sinuatum ITS); all sequencing results and the relative GenBank accession number are shown in Table S3.
The Diplotaxis sp. were the only Brassicaceae species that we found along the visitors’ path. We also had root samples that showed matches with Sinapis alba and Brassica sp. The tombs where we initially collected the samples were later inaccessible (due to the COVID-19 restrictions). Due to the low number of samples processed starting from leaf extracts and the incomplete overlapping of the species considered, it was not possible to perform a statistical analysis to assess if the differences found in sequencing success yields (root vs. leaf sequencing) are significant.
The comparison of the root sequences with the new reference sequences allowed the identification of several species, e.g., S. tortuosum subsp. tortuosum (Tomb 5512), V. sinuatum (Tomb of the Sculptures), R. lutea subsp. lutea (the Moretti, M1, and Lotus flower, C1 tombs), and C. aspera subsp. aspera (Lotus Flower tomb, Samples C2, LT01, and LT3). Besides, no root matches were recorded with the species D. tenuifolia and D. erucoides, which commonly grow among the tombs in the aboveground area along the visitors’ path.

3. Discussion

There is a limited number of studies on roots’ identification by DNA barcode, mainly focused on the plant roots’ distribution and diversity in the belowground or aimed at authenticating medicinal plants [50,51,52,53,54]. On archeological sites, trees and bushes are commonly maintained under strict control, while no information and neither preventive measures nor guidelines are issued for herbaceous plants. This is mainly due to the general assumption that herbaceous plants are not dangerous, not deeply penetrating, and the lack of reliable and fast methods to identify plants starting from small, tiny roots. Indeed, the difficulty in identifying herbaceous roots allowed us to test the DNA barcoding efficiency.
Plant cells have three different genomes: nuclear, plastid, and mitochondrial [55]. Species, cell type, and age of the tissue affect the number of copies of the nuclear genome and the number of organelles, respectively [55]. Polysaccharides, polyphenolics, and secondary metabolites produced by plants could decrease the quality of their DNA extracts [56]. In this preliminary study, despite some difficulties, promising results were achieved with our protocol, leading to a successful four-marker sequencing in 11 out of 14 root samples (78.57%). Meanwhile, the negative outcomes can provide cues for improvement to be applied in the next step of this research.
Young, healthy, and tender tissues (better if from leaf meristems) are the ideal choice for good quality/quantity DNA extracts, due to the higher number of cells and the low deposition of starch and secondary metabolites [56]. Otherwise, in subterranean environments, a sufficient number of young fresh root samples is often not available, and this factor may affect the results.
Species discrimination with plant barcodes is typically lower than for animals and fungi, using cox1 and ITS barcodes, respectively [45]. This is in part due to the lower rate of nucleotide substitution in the plastid genome, but also tied, for example, to hybridization, polyploidy, and low levels of intraspecific gene flow for plastid markers [57].
It is well known that levels of species discrimination greatly vary among taxa, and several DNA barcoding studies on plants analyzed the discriminating power of molecular data within relatively homogeneous groups, such as families or genera [44,45]. Among plastid regions, rbcL is the best characterized gene because it is easily retrievable across terrestrial plants, suitable for high-quality bidirectional sequences, and easy to align [43,45]. Because of the best performing multi-locus combinations for species discrimination, rbcL was chosen as core-barcode with matK despite its modest discriminatory power [43]. In our study, rbcL sequences (500–650 bp) were never resolutive when used alone, but they were enough to identify the closest “species group” sharing the highest identity score. This information was useful in the field sampling to address the search for spontaneous species, which was not securely identifiable, allowing us to overcome the gap of missing sequences in GenBank. It was also highlighted that, when using rbcL primers, it is possible to amplify mitochondrial regions, a common event recorded in the Brassicaceae family [58].
Even though the matK gene showed high levels of discrimination power among angiosperm species [57,59], the main problem we had was due to the incomplete representation of the herbaceous local flora in GenBank.
The ITS target was the most useful DNA marker due to the number of sequences deposited in GenBank, with about 58.02% of congeneric species (and subspecies), and its recognized discriminatory power. It is characterized by an easy amplification, but as drawback the ITS of possible fungal endophytes can be amplified as well (recorded here as sequencing failure). Although the intergenic spacer psbA-trnH is demonstrated to be easily amplified and sequenced and useful for species identification (64.29% of samples) [60,61], it is poorly represented in GenBank (18.52% of congeneric species of the Latium flora). Its high sequence length variability, ranging from 152 to 851 bp in eudicotyledons, from 151 to 905 bp in monocotyledons, and from 283 to 1006 bp in gymnosperms [60], was useful in the lab practice to distinguish among different specimens just after an electrophoretic run (e.g., Foeniculum vulgare ca. 350 bp and Verbascum sinuatum ca. 600 bp).
In the light of these results, the four-target sequencing was useful to increase the identification rate and obtain more reliable results looking for consistent identity scores along with markers. Being the match scores tied to the specific fragment amplified (even within the same gene) and its length, a single perfect match does not provide a reliable identification. This is, for instance, what happened with the R. crystallina sequence match. Despite the full identity found in matK gene with this species, this result conflicted with the results achieved with the two other markers. Moreover, this species does not belong to the Italian flora. This evidence highlighted the importance of having more than a single discriminating marker for identification as well as the relevant contribution of the local floristic data.
Database improvement was, instead, crucial to achieve the 92.85% of identification at species and subspecies level (at the genus level for the remaining 7.15%), confirming the importance of comparisons with the aboveground vegetation. The improvement of the existing sequencing data on the autochthonous flora could be very useful, if not mandatory, to implement protection strategies for archaeological sites and underground buildings in general. Moreover, the enlargement of the reference database is necessary to assess the best marker barcodes for a faster and reliable identification.
From a conservation viewpoint, our results prove the herbaceous plants, typical of arid calcareous grasslands, can be a potential threat for hypogeal environments, as their roots were found more than 3 m deep (e.g., Sample M2). Indeed, all tombs of this study area are cut into a very porous (30–43% of porosity) yellowish limestone [62]. Being quite brittle, this stone does not offer great resistance to root penetration. Moreover, the xeric conditions that occur in summer in this Mediterranean site, may drive roots in search for water until they reach burial chambers, where the relative humidity is frequently between 90% and 100% [23]. The relevant deep growth is probably linked also to the fact that the most recurrent species, namely C. aspera, E. italicum, F. vulgare, R. lutea, S. tortuosum, and V. sinuatum, are biennial or perennial hemicryptophytes characterized by a vigorous root system. Other herbaceous annual species, such as Brassica sp. and S. alba, showed a well-developed root system as well. The recorded taxa belonged to the families Apiaceae, Asteraceae, Boraginaceae, Resedaceae, and Brassicaceae (eudicotyledons). Their vegetative growth varies [63], ranging from the medium C. aspera (30–60 cm high), R. alba (10–80 cm), S. tortuosum (20–70 cm), and S. alba (30–70 cm) to the medium-high E. italicum (35–100 cm) and F. vulgare (40–150 cm). Scant information is available about the architecture of their root system and behavior in drought conditions. A character shared by most of these species is the presence of taproots, probably able to penetrate more deeply than the adventitious roots of monocotyledons [32,33]. As roots were sampled at different depths and sites within the tombs, an accurate mapping of roots protrusion in different hypogea could provide useful information for conservation practices.
From an applicative side, there are several reasons to avoid large-scale interventions. It is well known that the vegetation generally benefits from policies designed to protect the archaeological site [64,65]. Moreover, the protection of the cultural heritage does not imply extensive and aggressive management routines (e.g., massive use of herbicide) especially when, as in our case, the archaeological area is also a site of naturalistic relevance. Vegetation affects the microclimate conditions of the sites and underground structures, decreasing the temperatures and increasing the humidity values. Recent studies in these Etruscan tombs showed some positive potential effects of plant cover in the stabilization of the local microclimate [66]. The negative counterpart is the role played by roots as carriers for rhizosphere microorganisms, water penetration, and organic carbon supply [22,24,26]. As previously stressed, being hypogea oligotrophic environments, these inputs could lead to a disequilibrium in the resident microbial communities and the spreading of further deteriogenous species [23,26]. Interestingly, the fungal strains sequenced by chance (Sample F1) showed the highest identity score with strains CCFEE 6623 and 6662 isolated previously from the Moretti tomb, deeply threatened by fungi [26].

4. Materials and Methods

4.1. Study Area

Due to its artistic and historic relevance, the Etruscan necropolis of Monterozzi in Tarquinia (Latium, Central Italy) (Figure 1A) has been included, together with those of Cerveteri, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 2004. The tombs, dating from the 7th to the 3rd century BC, were dug in calcarenites banks (Macco stone) and lie at depths ranging from 2 to 8 m [23]. As with other hypogea, these tombs are characterized by a high humidity level, a stable temperature throughout the year, and limited air circulation [26,67]. The necropolis landscape (Figure 1B) is characterized by the presence of many tumuli (which gave the name to the area of Monterozzi). Most of them have been flattened by agricultural practices and others have been dismantled and partially rebuilt to protect the main chamber without considering the original shape [36,68].
The area falls within the Mediterranean macro-bioclimate, with a lower meso-Mediterranean thermotype and a lower subhumid ombrotype [23]. The presence of trees and shrubs is quite limited within the Monterozzi necropolis (Figure 1A,B), which is characterized mainly by ruderal synanthropic herbaceous vegetation, with annual and perennial herbaceous species typical of Mediterranean meadows. Despite the long anthropization and excavation history (since the 19th century), this area maintains a good level of naturalness, also linked to the low incidence of non-native species, and it is included among the protected area of SCI/SAC (IT6010028) of the European Directive 92/43/CEE “Habitat” for its naturalistic relevance. As commonly occurs in archaeological areas, the herbaceous vegetation is subject to periodic mowing.

4.2. Root Sampling, DNA Extraction, Amplification, and Sequence Comparison

Fourteen root samples arising from seven hypogeal tombs (Table S4) were aseptically collected between February and November 2019 (Figure 3C,D), placed in sterile bags, and stored at −20 °C until use. DNA was extracted from fresh root material (70–100 mg) using the Nucleospin Plant kit (Macherey-Nagel, Düren, Germany) following the manufacturer instructions. PCR reactions were performed using the BioMix (BioLine, Luckenwalde, Germany). The reaction solution was prepared with 12 μL of Biomix, 5 pmol of each primer, and about 30 ng of template DNA in a total volume of 25 μL. DNA barcoding analysis was performed using four different DNA markers: the plastid coding rbcL and matK genes and the noncoding psbA-trnH regions and the nuclear ITS. The different primer sets used and the annealing temperatures are listed in Table 2. Amplifications were carried out using the MyCycler™ Thermal Cycler (Bio-Rad Laboratories, Munich, Germany) applying the following protocol for plastid markers: an initial denaturation step for 2 min at 95 °C, 45 cycles at 95 °C for 30 s, annealing at 50 °C (or 53 °C as in Table 1) for 1 min 30 s, extension at 72 °C for 40 s, followed by a final extension at 72 °C for 5 min [52]. For ITS, PCR conditions were: initial denaturation for 3 min at 95 °C, 35 cycles of denaturation at 95 °C for 30 s, annealing at 55 °C for 30 s, and extension for 32 s at 72 °C, with a final extension at 72 °C for 5 min. PCR amplicons were sequenced bidirectionally by Macrogen Spain (Madrid, Spain) and validated using CHROMASPRO v. 1.32 software (Technelysium, Southport, Queensland, Australia). All obtained sequences were searched through the GenBank database (BLASTn) and the best matches were recorded. PCR and sequencing were considered to have failed after four attempts. All sequences were deposited in GenBank (Table S2).

4.3. Integrated Taxonomic Identification Method

BLASTn best results (Table 2) were cross-referenced with our floristic data of the site and the checklist of the Italian flora [75]. In this way, it was possible to remove some matches at species level corresponding to plants not present in the local flora. To assess the matching reliability, we performed a search in the NCBI nucleotide database for all the congeneric species present in the Latium flora (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nucleotide/, accessed on 6 January 2021). For each congeneric species, we recorded the number of sequences found for each used DNA marker. Because the length of sequences could influence the best score, we reported the minimum and maximum sequence length. Due to the scarcity of genetic information when a plant was represented in the Latium flora as subspecies only, we also included the relative species, and plant data were recorded accordingly (Table S2). To implement the reference database, in summer 2020, after the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions, we performed a recognition in the field (limited to the visitors’ path) looking for congeneric species. Six plant species were collected and identified according to the analytical keys in [63,76]; their leaves were processed for molecular purposes as previously described for root samples. The obtained sequences were used as additional reference material (Table S4). ClustalW was used to align/compare sequences of reference specimens with unidentified roots. The procedure of the identification workflow is resumed in Figure 4.

5. Conclusions

The collected data provide the first assessment of the efficiency of the DNA barcoding approach in the identification of plant rootlets for the preservation of cultural heritage. Despite the positive results, we highlighted the need for some improvements in the GenBank dataset and the selection of specific markers. The collected data also contribute to enhancing the role of herbaceous plant as risk factors for the conservation of hypogeal structures, in specific conditions of high rock porosity and xeric environmental conditions. Further studies are needed to assess species, depth, and risk frequencies, possibly leading, in the near future, to the design of customized control measures.

Supplementary Materials

The following are available online at https://www.mdpi.com/article/10.3390/plants10061138/s1, Table S1: Root sequences accession numbers, Table S2: Representation of congeneric Latium flora in the NCBI GenBank database, Table S3: Reference plant specimen and sequences accession numbers, Table S4: Tombs in study and samples taken.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, G.C.; methodology, D.I., F.B. and G.C.; investigation, D.I., F.B. and S.L.; data curation, D.I., L.Z., S.L. and S.C.; writing—review and editing, D.I., L.Z., G.C. and S.C.; project administration, G.C. and F.B.; and funding acquisition, G.C. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Funding

This research and the APC was funded by ITALIAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION PROGRAM “Research of conservation environment and eco-friendly damage control of cultural heritage Korea and Italy”, grant number PGR01253. This work was also supported by the Grant to the DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE, ROMA TRE UNIVERSITY (MIUR-323 Italy Departments of Excellence, Article 1, Comma 314–337, Law 232/2016).

Data Availability Statement

All data regarding this research are available. In supplementary material can be found the accession number of the all obtained sequences.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Adele Cecchini (Ass. Amici Tombe di Tarquinia), the Direzione Regionale Musei Lazio (Daniela De Angelis, Director of the Cerveteri and Tarquinia UNESCO Site), and the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’Area Metropolitana di Roma, the Province of Viterbo e l’Etruria Meridionale (Daniele Federico Maras).

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

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Figure 1. Molecular marker performances (%). Sequencing performances, namely the frequencies on which were obtained high quality sequences (green) and technical affecting factors (A). Contribution to species identification, namely the frequencies on which Blast comparison returned a single reliable best match (green) and affecting factors (B). No statistical analysis was performed due to the number of samples.
Figure 1. Molecular marker performances (%). Sequencing performances, namely the frequencies on which were obtained high quality sequences (green) and technical affecting factors (A). Contribution to species identification, namely the frequencies on which Blast comparison returned a single reliable best match (green) and affecting factors (B). No statistical analysis was performed due to the number of samples.
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Figure 2. GenBank sequence coverage of the eight plant genera identified by root sequencing, showing the coverage percentages by molecular marker (A) and genus (B).
Figure 2. GenBank sequence coverage of the eight plant genera identified by root sequencing, showing the coverage percentages by molecular marker (A) and genus (B).
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Figure 3. Study area and root sampling: aerial view of the Monterozzi necropolis at Tarquinia (A); the landscape with tumuli (B); root sampling (C,D); and water droplets along roots, as highlighted by arrows (E,F).
Figure 3. Study area and root sampling: aerial view of the Monterozzi necropolis at Tarquinia (A); the landscape with tumuli (B); root sampling (C,D); and water droplets along roots, as highlighted by arrows (E,F).
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Figure 4. Root identification workflow.
Figure 4. Root identification workflow.
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Table 1. Best BLASTn match results obtained for the 14 root samples processed. On the left, the tombs from which the samples were taken. For each sample and target gene, the following are reported in order: blast matches, percentage of identity (%), and accession number as found in GenBank. The most likely identifications are in bold. The order with which species names are reported within cells also considers parameters not shown, such as query coverage, alignment scores, and E value.
Table 1. Best BLASTn match results obtained for the 14 root samples processed. On the left, the tombs from which the samples were taken. For each sample and target gene, the following are reported in order: blast matches, percentage of identity (%), and accession number as found in GenBank. The most likely identifications are in bold. The order with which species names are reported within cells also considers parameters not shown, such as query coverage, alignment scores, and E value.
TombSample IDITSmatKrbcLpsbA-trnH
BLASTn Match%Accession Nr.BLASTn Match%Accession Nr.BLASTn Match%Accession Nr.BLASTn Match%Accession Nr.
Hunting and FishingH2Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum foeniculoides
Ridolfia segetum
Anethum graveolens
99.84
99.4
98.84
97.34
EU796894
HE602455
GQ148796
GQ148794
Foeniculum vulgar
Anethum graveolens
Ridolfia segetum
Cuminum cyminum
100
99.71
99.71
99.57
MK435626
MN216674
HM850713
MG946962
Apium graveolens
Prangos trifida
Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum graveolens
99.76
99.76
99.76
99.76
NC_041087
NC_037852
KR011054
MN216674
Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum foeniculoides
Ammi majus
Petroselium crispum
99.63
99.63
98.15
98.15
HE659550
MG947083
KU530039
HM596073
CP01Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum graveolens
Anethum foeniculoides
Ridolfia segetum
99.54
97.24
95.50
98.84
FJ980395
MN257763
HE602455
CG148796
Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum graveolens
Cuminum cyminum
Apium graveolens
99.75
99.37
99.12
98.74
JN894477
EU016725
MG946962
AJ429370
Apium graveolens
Prangos trifida
Foeniculum vulgare
Ligusticum jeholense
99.81
99.81
99.81
99.63
NC_041087
NC_037852
LT576823
MN652885
Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum foeniculoides
Ammi majus
Petroselium crispum
99.63
99.63
98.15
98.15
HE659550
MG947083
KU530039
HM596073
CP02Foeniculum vulgare
F. vulgare subsp. vulgare
Anethum foeniculoides
Ridolfia segetum
99.18
99.36
98.99
98.34
EU796894
MH645764
HE602455
GQ148796
Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum graveolens
Cuminum cyminum
Apium graveolens
100
99.54
99.19
99.08
MG946964
KR011055
MG946962
AJ429370
Apium graveolens
Prangos trifida
Foeniculum vulgare
Ligusticum jeholense
99.46
99.46
99.46
99.28
NC_041087
NC_037852
LT576823
MN652885
Foeniculum vulgare
Anethum foeniculoides
Ammi majus
Petroselium crispum
99.63
99.63
98.15
98.15
HE659550
MG947083
KU530039
HM596073
Lotus FlowerC2Centaurea aspera
Centaurea napifolia
Centaurea involucrata
Centaurea pullata
99.54
98.63
96.35
96.12
DQ319086
DQ319135
DQ319123
DQ319154
Centaurea diffusa
Carthamus tinctorius
Carthamus oxyacantha
Centaurea nigra
99.76
99.63
99.63
99.75
KJ690264
HM989751
MG946998
EU385332
Carthamus oxyacantha
Carthamus tinctorius
Centaurea involucrata
Centaurea melitensis
99.44
99.44
99.44
99.44
MG946886
KX822074
KC589820
KC589820
Centaurea aspera subsp.pseudoaerocephala
Centaurea jacea
Centaurea bracteata
Cirsium vulgare
100
99.13
98.47
98.26
DQ846283
HE966554
FR865076
KY562585
C1Reseda lutea
R. lutea subsp. lutea
Reseda crystallina
Reseda lanceolata
99.38
99.38
98.55
96.69
KR936125
DQ987095
DQ987088
DQ987099
Reseda crystallina
Reseda lutea
Ochradenus baccatus
Caylusea hexagyna
100
99.73
98.64
97.68
FJ212200
FM179932
MT948189
FJ212207
Oligomeris linifolia
Ochradenus arabicus
Reseda lutea
Reseda crystallina
99.61
99.61
100
100
MH185895
KX015754
KF724303
FJ212212
R. lutea subsp. lutea
Ochradenus baccatus
Caylusa hexagena
99.69
90.99
87.21
HE966773
MT948189
MT948187
LT01Centaurea aspera
Centaurea napifolia
Centaurea involucrata
Centaurea pullata
99.53
98.11
95.74
95.27
DQ319086
DQ319135
DQ319123
DQ319154
Centaurea diffusa
Centaurea nigra
Centaurea calcitrapa
Centaurea scabiosa
99.76
99.75
99.75
99.75
KJ690264
JN895178
MK925659
KT249946
Carthamusoxyacantha
Carthamus tinctorius
Centaurea involucrata
Centaurea melitensis
99.67
99.67
99.67
99.67
MG946886
KX822074
KC589820
KC589820
Centaurea aspera subsp.pseudoaerocephala
Centaurea jacea
Centaurea bracteata
Cirsium vulgare
100
99.13
98.48
98.28
DQ846283
HE966554
FR865076
KY562585
LT3Centaurea aspera
Centaurea napifolia
Centaurea involucrata
Centaurea pullata
99.37
97.95
95.58
95.10
DQ319086
DQ319135
DQ319123
DQ319154
Centaurea diffusa
Carthamus tinctorius
Carthamus oxyacantha
Centaurea nigra
99.76
99.63
99.63
99.75
KJ690264
MG946998
KX822074
JN895178
C. oxyacantha
Carthamus tinctorius
Centaurea involucrata
Centaurea melitensis
99.70
99.70
99.70
99.70
MG946886
KX822074
KC589820
KC589820
Centaurea aspera subsp.pseudoaerocephala
Centaurea jacea
Centaurea bracteata
Cirsium vulgare
100
99.13
98.47
98.26
DQ846283
HE966554
FR865076
MN275426
MorettiM1Reseda lutea
R. lutea subsp. lutea
Reseda crystallina
Reseda lanceolata
99.36
99.38
98.52
95.89
KR936125
DQ987095
DQ987088
DQ987099
Reseda crystallina
Reseda lutea
Ochradenus baccatus
Caylusea hexagyna
100
99.73
98.64
97.68
FJ212200
FM179932
MT948189
FJ212207
Oligomeris linifolia
Ochradenus arabicus
Reseda lutea
Reseda crystallina
99.42
99.42
99.80
99.80
MH185895
KX015754
KF724303
FJ212212
Reseda lutea subsp. lutea
Ochradenus baccatus
Caylusea hexagena
100
91.28
87.46
HE966773
MT948189
MT948187
M2Echium italicum
E. italicum subsp. italicum.
Echium glomeratum
Echium asperrimum
99.48
99.18
99.01
98.84
LC426085
MK321757
MK311754
MK321749
Echium italicum
Echium vulgare
Echium plantagineum
Echium angustifolium
99.72
99.44
99.44
99.15
EU599699
MK520026
HM850866
EU599695
E. vulgare subsp vulgare
Echium italicum
Echium plantagineum
Moltkiopsis ciliata
100
100
99.76
99.76
HE963457
EU599874
MN157267
KX282888
Echium italicum
Echium plantagineum
Echium vulgare
98.58
98.53
98.28
LC426222
MG598304
FJ8273162
Old manD4Sinapis alba
Eruca vesicaria
Rytidocarpus moricandioides
99.53
92.72
93.49
FJ609733
LC090005
MF192787
SEQUENCING FAILSEQUENCING FAILSinapis alba
Sinapis arvensis
Trachystoma ballii
Erucastrum cardaminoides
99.46
90.96
90.91
94.00
NC045948
KU050690
AB669922
KJ685143
SculpturesF1Ascom. CCFEE 6623
Ascom. CCFEE 6662
Plectospherella sp.
Acremonium nepalense
Ascom. CCFEE 6624
99.29
98.10
98.10
97.87
97.87
MT472274
MT472276
KY670795
HG008742
MT472275
PCR FAILBrassica juncea
Brassica nigra
Brassica carinata
Raphanus sativus
Brassica oleracea
99.67
99.67
99.67
99.35
99.35
MG872827
AP012989
JF920287
MN056359
LR031888
SEQUENCING FAIL
F3SEQUENCING FAILVerbascum thapsus
Verbascum carmanicum
Verbascum kermanense
Verbascum gabrieliae
99.29
99.19
99.19
99.19
JN893995
MH885332
MH885331
MH885333
Verbascum thapsus
Verbascum thapsus
Buddleja colvilei
Phryma leptostachya
99.82
100
99.08
99.08
KT178130
KJ841648
NC_042766
NC_042727
Verbascum sinuatum
Verbascum virgatum
Verbascum chinense
Verbascum thapsus
100
99.73
98.50
98.48
HE699541
KR361652
MT610040
MF348529
Bartoccini02Echium italicum
E. italicum subsp. italicum
Echium glomeratum
Echium asperrimum
99.34
99.17
99.17
99.00
MK321757
LC426085
MK321754
MK321749
Echium italicum
Echium vulgare
Echium plantagineum
Echium angustifolium
99.63
99.45
99.45
99.26
EU599699
MK520026
HM850866
EU599695
Echium vulgare
Echium plantagineum
Lobostemon fruticosus
Echiostachic incanus
99.53
99.69
99.54
99.54
KF158087
HM849964
AM234929
AM234927
Echium italicum
Echium plantagineum
Echium vulgare
98.58
98.53
98.28
LC426222
MG598304
FJ8273162
551201Angelica cartilagino-marginata
Peucedanum japonicum
Seseli tortuosum
Ledebouriella seseloides
97.36
96.93
99.83
96.47
AY548222
KX757777
MG697155
KX757775
Saposhnikovia divaricata
Ledebouriella seseloides
Peucedanum japonicum
Seseli montanum
99.66
99.66
99.32
99.43
MK435638
MN539269
KU866531
KM035851
Ligusticum thomsonii
Seseli montanum
Peucedanum praeruptorum
Saposhnikovia divaricata
100
100
99.81
99.81
MT409619 KM035851 MN016968 MN539269Paucedanum terebinthaceum
Paucedanum praeruptorum
Paucedanum ampliatum
Angelica polumorpha
94.35
93.95
95.19
93.38
MT671397
MN016968
JN046213
NC041580
Table 2. Primer pairs and annealing temperatures used.
Table 2. Primer pairs and annealing temperatures used.
LocusPrimer NameF/RSequences 5′-3′Annealing TemperatureReferences
matKmatK2.1aFATCCATCTGGAAATCTTAGTTC50 °C[69]
matK-3FKIM-rRCGTACAGTACTTTTGTGTTTACGAG
XFFTAATTTACGATCAATTCATTC50 °C[70]
5RRGTTCTAGCACAAGAAAGTCG
390FFCGATCTATTCATTCAATATTTC53 °C[71]
1326rRTCTAGCACACGAAAGTCGAAGT
rbcLrbcLa-FFATGTCACCACAAACAGAGACTAAAGC50 °C[69]
rbcLr590RAGTCCACCGCGTAGACATTCAT
1FFATGTCACCACAAACAGAAAC50 °C[72]
724RRTCGCATGTACCTGCAGTAGC
psbA-trnHpsbAFGTTATGCATGAACGTAATGCTC53 °C[73]
trnHRCGCGCATGGTGGATTCACAATCC
ITSITS5FGGAAGTAAAAGTCGTAACAAGG55 °C[74]
ITS3FGCATCGATGAAGAACGCAGC
ITS4RTCCTCCGCTTATTGATATGC
ITS2RGCTGCGTTCTTCATCGATGC
F/R, forward or reverse primers.
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Isola, D.; Bartoli, F.; Langone, S.; Ceschin, S.; Zucconi, L.; Caneva, G. Plant DNA Barcode as a Tool for Root Identification in Hypogea: The Case of the Etruscan Tombs of Tarquinia (Central Italy). Plants 2021, 10, 1138. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10061138

AMA Style

Isola D, Bartoli F, Langone S, Ceschin S, Zucconi L, Caneva G. Plant DNA Barcode as a Tool for Root Identification in Hypogea: The Case of the Etruscan Tombs of Tarquinia (Central Italy). Plants. 2021; 10(6):1138. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10061138

Chicago/Turabian Style

Isola, Daniela, Flavia Bartoli, Simone Langone, Simona Ceschin, Laura Zucconi, and Giulia Caneva. 2021. "Plant DNA Barcode as a Tool for Root Identification in Hypogea: The Case of the Etruscan Tombs of Tarquinia (Central Italy)" Plants 10, no. 6: 1138. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10061138

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