Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New Study Suggests Columbus Brought Syphilis To Europe From New World

15.01.2008
Did Columbus and his men introduce the syphilis pathogen into Renaissance Europe after contracting it during their voyage to the New World? Or does syphilis have a much longer history in the Old World? The most comprehensive comparative genetic analysis conducted on the family of bacteria (the treponemes) that cause syphilis and related diseases such as yaws, published Tuesday, January 15 in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, supports the so-called “Columbian theory” of syphilis’s origins.

Kristin Harper (Emory University, Atlanta, USA) approached this centuries-old debate by using phylogenetics — the study of the evolutionary relatedness between organisms — to study 26 geographically disparate strains of treponemes. The venereal syphilis-causing strains originated most recently, and their closest relatives were strains collected in South America that cause the treponemal disease yaws.

“That supports the hypothesis that syphilis — or some progenitor — came from the New World,” Harper says.

While it is generally agreed that the first recorded epidemic of syphilis occurred in Europe in 1495, controversy has raged ever since over the origin of the pathogen. Most of the evidence in recent years has come from bones of past civilizations in both New World and Old World sites, since chronic syphilis causes skeletal lesions. In many cases, however, skeletal analysis is inconclusive, due to problems with pinpointing the age of the bones and the lack of supporting epidemiological evidence.

Further complicating the research is the fact that the family of Treponema bacteria causes different diseases that share some symptoms but have different modes of transmission. Syphilis is sexually transmitted, but yaws and endemic syphilis are tropical diseases that are transmitted through skin-to-skin or oral contact. One hypothesis is that a subspecies of Treponema from the warm, moist climate of the tropical New World mutated into the venereal, syphilis-causing subspecies to survive in the cooler and relatively more hygienic European environment.

The phylogenetic analysis indicated that yaws is an ancient infection in humans while venereal syphilis arose relatively recently. The study results are especially significant due to the large number of different strains analyzed, including two never-before-sequenced strains of yaws from isolated inhabitants of Guyana's interior. At Harper's request, the Guyana samples were collected during a medical mission by Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee.

“Syphilis was a major killer in Europe during the Renaissance,” says co-author George Armelagos, a skeletal biologist whose research put him at the forefront of the syphilis debate 30 years ago. “Understanding its evolution is important not just for biology, but for understanding social and political history. It could be argued that syphilis is one of the important early examples of globalization and disease, and globalization remains an important factor in emerging diseases.”

CITATION: Harper KN, Ocampo PS, Steiner BM, George RW, Silverman MS, et al. (2008) On the Origin of the Treponematoses: A Phylogenetic Approach. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(1): e148. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000148

CONTACT:

Kristen Harper
Emory University
Population Biology, Ecology, and Evolution
207 Anthropology Building
1557 Dickey Dr.
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States of America
314 550-5191
knharpe@emory.edu

Andrew Hyde | alfa
Further information:
http://www.plosntds.org
http://www.plosntds.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pntd.0000148

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

Im Focus: Silencing bacteria

HZI researchers pave the way for new agents that render hospital pathogens mute

Pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to common antibiotics to an ever increasing degree. One of the most difficult germs is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular Force Sensors

20.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Producing electricity during flight

20.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

20.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>