Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mummy Lice Found In Peru May Give New Clues About Human Migration

Date:
February 8, 2008
Source:
University Of Florida
Summary:
Lice from 1,000-year-old mummies in Peru may unravel important clues about a different sort of passage: the migration patterns of America's earliest humans, a new study suggests. DNA sequencing found the strain of lice to be genetically the same as the form of body lice that spawns several deadly diseases, including typhus, which was blamed for the loss of Napoleon's grand army and millions of other soldiers, one of the researchers said.

Lice from 1,000-year-old mummies in Peru may unravel important clues about a different sort of passage: the migration patterns of America’s earliest humans, a new University of Florida study suggests.

“It’s kind of quirky that a parasite we love to hate can actually inform us how we traveled around the globe,” said David Reed, an assistant curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and one of the study’s authors.

DNA sequencing found the strain of lice to be genetically the same as the form of body lice that spawns several deadly diseases, including typhus, which was blamed for the loss of Napoleon’s grand army and millions of other soldiers, he said.

The discovery of these parasites on 11th-century Peruvian mummies proves they were infesting the native Americans nearly 500 years before Europeans arrived, Reed said. His findings are published this week in an online edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“This definitely goes against the grain of conventional thought that all diseases were transmitted from the Old World to the New World at the time of Columbus,” he said.

It came as a surprise to Reed and his research team that the type of lice on the mummies was of the same genetic type as those found as far away as the highlands of Papua, New Guinea, instead of the form of head lice that is widespread in the Western Hemisphere, Reed said. This latter version, the bane of many school children, accounts for more than half the cases of lice that appear in the United States, Canada and Central America, he said.

“Given its abundance in the Americas on living humans, we thought for sure that this form of lice was the one that was here all along and had been established in the New World with the first peoples,” he said.

“We hope to be able to understand human migration patterns by investigating their parasites since people have carried these parasites with them as they moved around the globe,” he said. “Called a parascript, it’s a whole other transcript of our evolutionary history that can either add to what we know or in some cases inform us about things we didn’t know.”

Looking at evidence from parasites’ perspectives, for example, may yield valuable clues about when the first Americans arrived on the continent and which route they took, Reed said. Building upon this DNA sequencing work, scientists may be able to link the 1,000-year-old lice found in the Western Hemisphere with those in Siberia or Mongolia, confirming existing theories that America’s earliest residents originated there, he said.

Had these immigrants traveled by land masses, there was a very small window of time, about 13,000 years ago, when the glaciers retreated enough to allow passage through the Bering Strait on the way to South America, Reed said. Another proposed theory is a seafaring route, but this would have required sophisticated oceangoing vessels for which no evidence from the time exists, he said.

Being able to chart these early migration patterns would give insight into how these early immigrants lived, Reed said. “If you’re skirting the edge of glaciers, it’s obviously a very cold time period and humans would have needed certain creature comforts just to stay alive, such as tight clothing to maintain warmth,” he said.

Today, the people who don’t have the opportunity to change their clothes are the ones at risk for epidemic typhus, which along with the lesser-known diseases of relapsing fever and trench fever are carried by body lice, Reed said. These pests lay their eggs in clothing fibers and washing the clothes is all it takes to get rid of them, he said.

“The disease pops up primarily in refugees who have been displaced from their homeland with the clothes on their backs and nothing else,” he said. “They’re living in crowded conditions where hygiene is poor.”

Reed said he hopes the team’s lice research might someday increase human understanding of typhus by pinpointing where the disease originated.

Studying parasites to learn about their hosts’ history has been around for only about 20 years, Reed said. “By looking at things like tapeworms, pinworms, lice or bedbugs that humans have carried around for at least tens of thousands of years, and in some cases millions of years,” he said, “we can learn much more about human evolutionary history.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Florida. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Florida. "Mummy Lice Found In Peru May Give New Clues About Human Migration." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207120006.htm>.
University Of Florida. (2008, February 8). Mummy Lice Found In Peru May Give New Clues About Human Migration. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207120006.htm
University Of Florida. "Mummy Lice Found In Peru May Give New Clues About Human Migration." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207120006.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

AFP (July 29, 2014) London's "Gherkin" office tower, one of the landmarks on the British capital's skyline, went on sale for about 650 million ($1.1 billion, 820 million euros) on Tuesday after being placed into receivership. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

AFP (July 26, 2014) Tourists visiting Italy at the peak of the summer season are disappointed to find some of Rome's most famous attractions being restored and offering limited access. Duration: 01:01 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins