Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sea Lions And Seals Likely Spread Tuberculosis To Ancient Peruvians

When Europeans came to the Americas, they brought some nasty diseases — smallpox, cholera and typhus, to name a few.
But one pathogen was already there. And it likely traveled to the shores of South America in a surprising vessel.
By analyzing DNA from 1,000-year-old mummies, scientists have found evidence that sea lions and seals were the first to bring tuberculosis to the New World. The sea animals likely infected people living along the coast of Peru and northern Chile, a team from the University of Tubingen in Germany reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.
"We weren't expecting to find a connection to marine mammals," says archaeologist Kirsten Bos, the lead author on the study. "It surprised us all."
Ancient Peruvians might have caught the TB bacteria while hunting and eating seals, Bos says, or during some type of ceremony.
"These people had a spiritual connection to seals," she says. "Images of seal hunting and seals themselves have been found on ceramics used by Peruvian cultures. One ceramic has a sea lion on the handle. That's pretty neat."
Previous studies have found signs that tuberculosis infected people across North and South Americas. But genetic data suggest that TB originated in Africa. npr

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