What do Andrew Jackson, George Orwell, Jane Austen, John Keats, Franz Kafka, and Eleanor Roosevelt have in common with seals? Tuberculosis, as it turns out.
According to a Nature paper published today, seals and sea lions carried a strain of tuberculosis to Peru centuries before Europeans brought the disease to the Americas. The study, which was led by anthropological geneticist Anne Stone of the University of Arizona, adds a new layer to our understanding of the devastating pandemics that ravaged through the native populations of the Americas in the wake of European colonization.
On the one hand, the study clearly shows that Europeans were not responsible for the initial introduction of tuberculosis to the New World—that dubious honor goes to a different species of intercontinental mammals. The team reached this conclusion after analyzing 76 specimens from the remains of indigenous Americans, dating from both before and after the colonization of the Americas.
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