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 Real-time feedback helps save energy and water
08.02.2017 | Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg

nachricht The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>