9000 Year Old TB

19 October 2008


Researchers sequence oldest traces of TB from a 9000 year old victim and her child - Writing in this week's PLoS One, scientists working amongst a series of buried settlements in Israel, which date back almost 10,000 years, have uncovered the remains of a woman buried alongside her young child. Both showed signs of having died from TB infection prompting the researchers to examine the remains for DNA traces of the disease.

Mycobacterium TuberculosisUsing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) the team were able to amplify TB DNA, making this the oldest TB sequences obtained to date.  The genetic sequence of the bug tells a number of tales including that humans probably gave cows their form of "bovine" TB, rather than (as had previously been suspected) the other way around.

The findings, published by Israel Hershkovitz and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University, are also tantalising from an anthropological perspective because they date from a time when humans were eschewing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favour of a more settled existence in which animals were domesticated. This close proximity between humans and animals is probably what helped to spawn a host of new diseases.


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