Pre-Columbian mycobacterial genomes reveal seals as a source of New World human tuberculosis

Kirsten I. Bos, Kelly M. Harkins, Alexander Herbig, Mireia Coscolla, Nico Weber, Iñaki Comas, Stephen A. Forrest, Josephine M. Bryant, Simon R. Harris, Verena J. Schuenemann, Tessa J. Campbell, Kerttu Majander, Alicia K. Wilbur, Ricardo A. Guichon, Dawnie L. Wolfe Steadman, Della C ollins Cook, Stefan Niemann, Marcel A. Behr, Martin Zumarraga, Ricardo BastidaDaniel Huson, Kay Nieselt, Douglas Young, Julian Parkhill, Jane Buikstra, Sebastien Gagneux, Anne Stone, Johannes Krause

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

383 Scopus citations


Modern strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from the Americas are closely related to those fromEurope, supporting the assumption that human tuberculosis was introduced post-contact1. This notion, however, is incompatible with archaeological evidence of pre-contact tuberculosis in the New World2. Comparative genomics of modern isolates suggests that M. tuberculosis attained its worldwide distribution following human dispersals out of Africa during the Pleistocene epoch3, although this has yet to be confirmed with ancient calibration points. Here we present three 1,000-year-oldmycobacterial genomesfromPeruvianhuman skeletons, revealing that amember of the M. tuberculosis complex caused human disease before contact.The ancient strains are distinct fromknownhuman-adapted forms and are most closely related to those adapted to seals and sea lions. Two independent dating approaches suggest a most recent common ancestor for the M. tuberculosis complex less than 6,000 years ago, which supports a Holocene dispersal of the disease. Our results implicate sea mammals as having played a role in transmitting the disease to humans across the ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-497
Number of pages4
Issue number7253
StatePublished - Oct 23 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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