Discovery Of The Mummy's DNA Could Lead To The Understanding Of The Origin Of Smallpox

First Posted: Dec 12, 2016 05:30 AM EST

The origin of smallpox could be traced to the discovery of the DNA of a mummified child who lived in the 17th century. The study indicates that the condition existed thousands of years later than previously believed.

The findings of the discovery were published in Current Biology. It was led by Hendrik Poinar, the senior author of the study from University in Canada, and other colleagues. The team found the remains of the child inside a church's crypt in Lithuania.

Poinar explained that scientists do not yet fully comprehend where smallpox came from and when it jumped into humans. He further explained that this research raises some interesting possibilities about human perception and age of the disease.

In the study, the team investigates the remains of a boy to identify the kinds of pathogens dated in the 1600s. On the other hand, they found evidence of smallpox, even though the boy showed no signs of the disease. The team then reconstructed the disease's genome and provided one of the oldest completed genomes of it in existence. They compared this genome to samples of the disease taken in the 1940s till to its eradication in the 1970s.

They discovered that strains that are now available for the study have a common ancestor that lived in the 1500s. The study indicates that smallpox originated in a lot more recent time. It started plaguing humans during the time of worldwide exploration in the 1500s, according to Science Alert.

Eddie Homes, one of the researchers from University of Sydney, said that this study sets the clock of smallpox evolution to a much more recent time scale. He further said, however, that it is still unclear what animal is the true reservoir of smallpox virus and when the virus first jumped into humans.

Smallpox is an infectious disease and originally known in English as the "pox" or "red plague." It has two variants, namely, the Variola major, which had an overall mortality rate of 30 to 35 percent, and the Variola minor, which killed about 1 percent of its victims. In the past research, people in ancient Egypt might have smallpox around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. This finding was based on the pockmark scarring on mummies and not the visibility of smallpox.

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