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Redefining the treponemal history through pre-Columbian genomes from Brazil


Majander, Kerttu; Pla-Díaz, Marta; du Plessis, Louis; Arora, Natasha; Filippini, Jose; Pezo-Lanfranco, Luis; Eggers, Sabine; González-Candelas, Fernando; Schuenemann, Verena J (2024). Redefining the treponemal history through pre-Columbian genomes from Brazil. Nature, 627(8002):182-188.

Abstract

The origins of treponemal diseases have long remained unknown, especially considering the sudden onset of the first syphilis epidemic in the late 15th century in Europe and its hypothesized arrival from the Americas with Columbus’ expeditions. Recently, ancient DNA evidence has revealed various treponemal infections circulating in early modern Europe and colonial-era Mexico. However, there has been to our knowledge no genomic evidence of treponematosis recovered from either the Americas or the Old World that can be reliably dated to the time before the first trans-Atlantic contacts. Here, we present treponemal genomes from nearly 2,000-year-old human remains from Brazil. We reconstruct four ancient genomes of a prehistoric treponemal pathogen, most closely related to the bejel-causing agent Treponema pallidum endemicum. Contradicting the modern day geographical niche of bejel in the arid regions of the world, the results call into question the previous palaeopathological characterization of treponeme subspecies and showcase their adaptive potential. A high-coverage genome is used to improve molecular clock date estimations, placing the divergence of modern T. pallidum subspecies firmly in pre-Columbian times. Overall, our study demonstrates the opportunities within archaeogenetics to uncover key events in pathogen evolution and emergence, paving the way to new hypotheses on the origin and spread of treponematoses.

Abstract

The origins of treponemal diseases have long remained unknown, especially considering the sudden onset of the first syphilis epidemic in the late 15th century in Europe and its hypothesized arrival from the Americas with Columbus’ expeditions. Recently, ancient DNA evidence has revealed various treponemal infections circulating in early modern Europe and colonial-era Mexico. However, there has been to our knowledge no genomic evidence of treponematosis recovered from either the Americas or the Old World that can be reliably dated to the time before the first trans-Atlantic contacts. Here, we present treponemal genomes from nearly 2,000-year-old human remains from Brazil. We reconstruct four ancient genomes of a prehistoric treponemal pathogen, most closely related to the bejel-causing agent Treponema pallidum endemicum. Contradicting the modern day geographical niche of bejel in the arid regions of the world, the results call into question the previous palaeopathological characterization of treponeme subspecies and showcase their adaptive potential. A high-coverage genome is used to improve molecular clock date estimations, placing the divergence of modern T. pallidum subspecies firmly in pre-Columbian times. Overall, our study demonstrates the opportunities within archaeogenetics to uncover key events in pathogen evolution and emergence, paving the way to new hypotheses on the origin and spread of treponematoses.

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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
340 Law
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Multidisciplinary
Uncontrolled Keywords:Multidisciplinary
Language:English
Date:7 March 2024
Deposited On:14 Feb 2024 13:48
Last Modified:30 Jun 2024 01:39
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:0028-0836
Additional Information:Supplementary information: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-06965-x#citeas Reporting Summary Supplementary Table 1 (Shotgun and post target-enrichment screening data.) Supplementary Table 2 (Radiocarbon dating results for the four samples used for genome reconstruction.) Supplementary Table 3 (SNP data.) Supplementary Table 4 (Recombination data.)
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06965-x
PubMed ID:38267579
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)