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Ancient Bacterial Genomes Reveal a High Diversity of Treponema pallidum Strains in Early Modern Europe


Abstract

Syphilis is a globally re-emerging disease, which has marked European history with a devastating epidemic at the end of the 15th century. Together with non-venereal treponemal diseases, like bejel and yaws, which are found today in subtropical and tropical regions, it currently poses a substantial health threat worldwide. The origins and spread of treponemal diseases remain unresolved, including syphilis’ potential introduction into Europe from the Americas. Here, we present the first genetic data from archaeological human remains reflecting a high diversity of Treponema pallidum in early modern Europe. Our study demonstrates that a variety of strains related to both venereal syphilis and yaws-causing T. pallidum subspecies were already present in Northern Europe in the early modern period. We also discovered a previously unknown T. pallidum lineage recovered as a sister group to yaws- and bejel-causing lineages. These findings imply a more complex pattern of geographical distribution and etiology of early treponemal epidemics than previously understood.

Abstract

Syphilis is a globally re-emerging disease, which has marked European history with a devastating epidemic at the end of the 15th century. Together with non-venereal treponemal diseases, like bejel and yaws, which are found today in subtropical and tropical regions, it currently poses a substantial health threat worldwide. The origins and spread of treponemal diseases remain unresolved, including syphilis’ potential introduction into Europe from the Americas. Here, we present the first genetic data from archaeological human remains reflecting a high diversity of Treponema pallidum in early modern Europe. Our study demonstrates that a variety of strains related to both venereal syphilis and yaws-causing T. pallidum subspecies were already present in Northern Europe in the early modern period. We also discovered a previously unknown T. pallidum lineage recovered as a sister group to yaws- and bejel-causing lineages. These findings imply a more complex pattern of geographical distribution and etiology of early treponemal epidemics than previously understood.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Legal Medicine
04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Language:English
Date:1 October 2020
Deposited On:04 Sep 2020 13:52
Last Modified:06 Oct 2020 01:06
Publisher:Cell Press (Elsevier)
ISSN:0960-9822
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.07.058
PubMed ID:32795443
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID10531F_188963
  • : Project TitleTowards the origins of syphilis
  • : FunderFP7
  • : Grant ID614725
  • : Project TitlePATHPHYLODYN - Pathogen Phylodynamics: Unifying Evolution, Infection and Immunity

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