Ancient DNA Supports Long-Standing Theory of Syphilis

The British, Germans, and Italians referred to syphilis as the “French disease.” The Poles called it the “German illness,” while the Russians blamed the Poles. In France, it was named the “Neapolitan disease” after the French army contracted it during the invasion of Naples, which marked the first documented epidemic of syphilis. [1]

The origin of syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection that devastated Europe in the 15th century and continues to be widespread, remains unclear and difficult to study, sparking ongoing discussions among experts. [2]

One method of researching ancient pathogens is through the study of genetic information preserved in bones, teeth, mummified bodies, and historical medical samples. This field of study is known as paleopathology. [3]

Previously, it was believed that syphilis originated in America and was brought to Europe following Christopher Columbus’ expeditions. However, a new study suggests that the real history of syphilis is more complex. [4]

In a study published in the journal “Nature,” scientists utilized paleopathology techniques to analyze 2,000-year-old bones discovered in Brazil. This allowed them to uncover the earliest known genomic data of Treponema pallidum, the bacteria responsible for syphilis and two related diseases that predate the first transatlantic contacts. [5]

The scientific community has taken a keen interest in this study as it is the first instance of successfully extracting ancient DNA of this bacteria from archaeological human remains dating back several centuries. Detailed analysis revealed that the pathogen found in the bones closely resembled the modern subspecies T. pallidum, which causes a disease known as Bedzhel, found in arid regions of Africa and the Middle East and exhibiting symptoms similar to syphilis. [5]

This discovery supports the theory that American civilizations encountered treponemal infections in pre-Columbian times, indicating the presence of treponemal diseases in the New World at least 500 years before Columbus’ arrival. [6]

Recent studies suggest that the T. pallidum bacteria may have evolved to infect humans approximately 12,000 years ago. There is a possibility that the disease was introduced to the American continent by the first settlers who migrated from Asia. This finding raises questions about the global spread of the three subspecies of the bacteria, particularly in pre-Columbian samples. [6]

Scientists emphasize the importance of further studying ancient genomes worldwide to unravel this mystery, shedding light on which subspecies of bacteria were present in Europe and the New World prior to

/Reports, release notes, official announcements.