GAINESVILLE, Fla. Lice from 1,000-year-old mummies in Peru may unravel important clues about a different sort of passage: the migration patterns of Americas earliest humans, a new University of Florida study suggests.
Its 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 studys 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 Napoleons 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
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