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

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

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: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>