Unraveling the Ancient Origins of Bejel in South America

Unraveling the Ancient Origins of Bejel in South America

New research has shed light on the ancient origins of bejel, a treponemal disease related to syphilis. Scientists have discovered DNA from the bacterium Treponema pallidum endemicum in 2,000-year-old human skeletons found in Brazil. These findings provide evidence that bejel was present in South America long before European contact in the 15th century. The study, published in the journal Nature, also pushes back the estimated date of the bacterium’s origin by over 1,000 years.

The skeletons were excavated from the archaeological site of Jabuticabeira II, located near Laguna do Camacho on the south coast of Brazil. Analysis of the skeletons had previously revealed bone lesions that suggested the presence of treponemal disease. DNA screening of bone samples from 99 of the skeletons confirmed the presence of treponemal DNA in 37 samples. Further analysis allowed researchers to reconstruct the genome of the ancient bacterium.

The genome of the ancient bacterium closely resembles that of modern-day bejel, also known as endemic syphilis. Bejel is transmitted through contact with skin or mouth lesions and is typically found in hot, arid regions of the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia. The presence of bejel in a humid coastal region like Brazil is unexpected.

The research suggests that the Indigenous people of Brazil lived with bejel without effective treatment. The lack of historical texts describing the symptoms from 2,000 years ago makes it difficult to determine the exact effects the disease had on the population. However, it is likely that the bacterium caused similar skin lesions as seen in modern bejel cases.

Interestingly, the individuals who tested positive for treponemal DNA were buried together with others, suggesting that they were not ostracized due to their disease. This finding challenges common assumptions about how societies viewed and treated individuals with illnesses in the past.

While the study provides new insights into the ancient origins of bejel in South America, it does not offer clues about the origins of venereal syphilis. Further research and analysis of ancient DNA from other subspecies of Treponema pallidum are necessary to uncover the oldest subspecies. The discovery of this ancient treponemal genome opens the door to a better understanding of the evolution and distribution of this pathogen in ancient times.

FAQs about Ancient Origins of Bejel

Q: What is bejel?
A: Bejel is a treponemal disease related to syphilis. It is also known as endemic syphilis.

Q: What has new research revealed about bejel?
A: New research has discovered DNA from the bacterium Treponema pallidum endemicum, the causative agent of bejel, in 2,000-year-old human skeletons found in Brazil.

Q: What is the significance of this discovery?
A: The findings provide evidence that bejel was present in South America before European contact in the 15th century and pushes back the estimated date of the bacterium’s origin by over 1,000 years.

Q: Where were the skeletons excavated?
A: The skeletons were excavated from the archaeological site of Jabuticabeira II, located near Laguna do Camacho on the south coast of Brazil.

Q: What previously suggested the presence of treponemal disease in the skeletons?
A: Analysis of the skeletons had revealed bone lesions that suggested the presence of treponemal disease.

Q: How many of the bone samples confirmed the presence of treponemal DNA?
A: DNA screening of bone samples from 99 of the skeletons confirmed the presence of treponemal DNA in 37 samples.

Q: What was the bacterium’s genome reconstructed from?
A: Further analysis allowed researchers to reconstruct the genome of the ancient bacterium from the bone samples.

Q: How does the ancient bacterium’s genome compare to modern-day bejel?
A: The genome of the ancient bacterium closely resembles that of modern-day bejel or endemic syphilis.

Q: Where is bejel typically found?
A: Bejel is typically found in hot, arid regions of the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia.

Q: Why is the presence of bejel in Brazil unexpected?
A: The presence of bejel in a humid coastal region like Brazil is unexpected, as it is more commonly found in arid regions.

Q: How did Indigenous people in Brazil live with bejel?
A: The research suggests that Indigenous people in Brazil lived with bejel without effective treatment.

Q: How were individuals with treponemal DNA buried?
A: Individuals who tested positive for treponemal DNA were buried together with others, suggesting that they were not ostracized due to their disease.

Q: What limitations does the study have?
A: The study does not offer clues about the origins of venereal syphilis. Further research and analysis of ancient DNA from other subspecies of Treponema pallidum are necessary.

Q: What can be learned from the discovery of this ancient treponemal genome?
A: The discovery of this ancient treponemal genome opens the door to a better understanding of the evolution and distribution of this pathogen in ancient times.

Related links:
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