Infectious Disease

Seals infected early Americans with TB

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Science  29 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6200, pp. 1017
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6200.1017-g

The South American fur seal may have helped spread TB

CREDIT: © INCAMERASTOCK/ALAMY

How did Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis (TB), first infect humans? Microbial DNA from 1000-year-old Peruvian mummies suggests that seals may have spread the disease to South American humans long before European settlers arrived. Bos et al. used DNA sequencing to solve the mystery. After finding the TB bacteria's DNA in three of the mummies, the team determined that the bacterial genomes were closest in sequence to a TB strain that infects marine mammals, suggesting that the ancient humans got TB from eating seal or sea lion meat, the researchers say.

Nature 10.1038/nature13591 (2014).

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