Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Human pubic lice acquired from gorillas gives evolutionary clues

08.03.2007
Humans acquired pubic lice from gorillas several million years ago, but this seemingly seedy connection does not mean that monkey business went on with the great apes, a new University of Florida study finds.

Rather than close encounters of the intimate kind, humans most likely got the gorilla's lice from sleeping in their nests or eating the giant apes, said David Reed, assistant curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, one of the study's authors. The research is published in the current edition of the BMC Biology journal.

"It certainly wouldn't have to be what many people are going to immediately assume it might have been, and that is sexual intercourse occurring between humans and gorillas," he said. "Instead of something sordid, it could easily have stemmed from an activity that was considerably more tame."

About 3.3 million years ago, lice found on gorillas began to infest humans, Reed said. That they took up residence in the pubic region may have coincided with humans' loss of hair on the rest of their bodies and the lack of any other suitable niche, he said.

... more about:
»Gorilla »acquired »parasite »transmitted

Reed and his co-workers' research stemmed from their fascination with humans' unique position among primates in being host to two different kinds of lice: one on the head and body (Pediculus), which has become the bane of many schoolchildren, and pubic or crab lice (Pthirus). In contrast, chimps have only head lice and gorillas pubic lice.

Understanding the history of lice is important because the tiny insects give clues about the lifestyles of early hominids and evolution of modern humans, Reed said. Because the human fossil record is patchy and finding early DNA samples is extremely difficult, parasites such as head lice, pubic lice, tapeworms and pinworms that have existed for millions of years provide valuable clues, he said.

"These lice really give us the potential to learn how humans evolved when so many parts of our evolutionary history are obscure," he said. Lice also can serve as a model in understanding how parasites move from one species to another, Reed said.

"If you look at emerging infectious diseases that affect humans all over the world, most have their origins on some other host before threatening humans," he said. "Studying what it takes for a parasite to be successful in switching hosts adds to our knowledge about what makes a good host for the spread of disease."

Working with other scientists who collected lice from primates in Ugandan wildlife sanctuaries, the research team extracted DNA from the lice and used fossil data from humans and gorillas to estimate how long ago these two types of lice shared a common ancestor.

In particular, the researchers looked at whether pubic lice developed on their own in humans or whether humans acquired them from gorillas. They believed humans were more likely to have had lice all along because this was a simpler explanation than acquiring lice from gorillas, but they were proved wrong.

It is not unusual for lice to switch hosts, with this occurring in both birds and mammals, Reed said. Lice that lived on the passenger pigeon before it became extinct persist today because they switched to another species of pigeon, he said.

Lice need either direct physical contact or very recent contact to switch hosts, Reed said. In this specific case, the parasite might have been transmitted to humans sleeping in a depression in the ground where a gorilla had slept and nested the night before or even by humans feeding on gorillas, he said.

"Unfortunately, even today among modern humans there's a bush meat trade where gorillas are killed for their meat," he said. "If archaic humans were butchering or scavenging those animals 3.3 million years ago, it would be a simple thing to transfer those lice from prey to predator."

Because humans and gorillas are so closely related and have so many potential interactions of a nonsexual nature, it would have been less likely for the lice to have been transmitted through sexual intercourse, he said.

Reed did the study with postdoctoral researcher Jessica Light at the Florida Museum of Natural History and zoology graduate students Julie Allen and Jeremy Kirchman.

"This paper makes one's imagination run wild, giving graphic new meaning to that '800 pound gorilla,'" said Dale Clayton, a University of Utah biology professor. "However, as the authors point out, the inferred host switch of pubic lice from gorillas to humans did not require sexual contact. Human pubic or 'crab' lice get transmitted between people on bath towels all the time. So it is easy to imagine that gorilla lice could have transmitted to humans via shared sleeping quarters, or predation, as the authors suggest."

David Reed | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu

Further reports about: Gorilla acquired parasite transmitted

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A novel socio-ecological approach helps identifying suitable wolf habitats
17.02.2017 | Universität Zürich

nachricht New, ultra-flexible probes form reliable, scar-free integration with the brain
16.02.2017 | University of Texas at Austin

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

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

Switched-on DNA

20.02.2017 | Materials Sciences

Second cause of hidden hearing loss identified

20.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

Prospect for more effective treatment of nerve pain

20.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>