Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Syphillis and Columbus:On the Origin of the Treponematoses: A Phylogenetic Approach


treponemas:the bacteria that causes syphilis

Since the first recorded epidemic of syphilis in 1495, controversy has surrounded the origins of the bacterium Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum and its relationship to the pathogens responsible for the other treponemal diseases: yaws, endemic syphilis, and pinta. Some researchers have argued that the syphilis-causing bacterium, or its progenitor, was brought from the New World to Europe by Christopher Columbus and his men, while others maintain that the treponematoses, including syphilis, have a much longer history on the European continent.

For 500 years, controversy has raged around the origin of T. pallidum subsp. pallidum, the bacterium responsible for syphilis. Did Christopher Columbus and his men introduce this pathogen into Renaissance Europe, after contracting it during their voyage to the New World? Or does syphilis have a much older history in the Old World? This paper represents the first attempt to use a phylogenetic approach to solve this question. In addition, it clarifies the evolutionary relationships between the pathogen that causes syphilis and the other T. pallidum subspecies, which cause the neglected tropical diseases yaws and endemic syphilis. Using a collection of pathogenic Treponema strains that is unprecedented in size, we show that yaws appears to be an ancient infection in humans while venereal syphilis arose relatively recently in human history. In addition, the closest relatives of syphilis-causing strains identified in this study were found in South America, providing support for the Columbian theory of syphilis's origin.http://www.plosntds.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pntd.0000148

http://www.cdc.gov/STD/Syphilis/STDFact-Syphilis.htm

http://www.logoi.com/health/syphilis/syphilis_4.html

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