Salmonella enterica wiped out ancient Mexican civilization: new study reveals

An epidemic which is also known as cocoliztli, in late 16th century had caused severe health damages like bleeding and vomiting. It has affected large areas of Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. This dangerous disease took around 80 per cent of the population in those areas, and millions of people had died due to this.

The scientists have examined some ancient DNA and used a new technique to find out the reason behind the mysterious epidemic that had severely affected the cataclysmic population. During the research the scientists examined DNA found within the teeth of 10 skeletons buried in an undisturbed cocoliztli or pestilence cemetery in Oaxaca, Mexico, they found Salmonella genomes. It is the reason for typhoid fever. The study also shows that this is the first evidence of Salmonella in America. Previously, it has been detected that Typhoid fever was there at that time, but this is for the first time the researchers have identified the bacteria.

The new study has been published in the journal of Nature, on 15th January. As per the study, the reason behind the devastating epidemic was the enter of Europeans who were also known as Mesoamerica. The European were the main cause of typhoid fever, and they had brought the disease when they arrived to conquer Mesoamerica.

Kirsten Bos, the study author and group leader of molecular palaeopathology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, said that “the cocoliztli is a mysterious historical epidemic, and over the years many have speculated on its cause.” He further stated that for the first time the ancient DNA has helped to detect a candidate pathogen for this.

Using the technique called the Megan Alignment Tool, or MALT, Bos and her colleagues used the database of bacteria as the basis for identifying the microbes in ancient teeth. After that the compared the DNA sequence of that ancient bacteria with modern bacteria and found salmonella was an only infectious agent. During examining the dental samples of five people who died before European entered the area but buried in the same site, the researchers didn’t find any amounts of S. enterica.

The Teposcolula-Yucundaa’s Grand Plaza cemetery had some link with that divesting outbreak. During the outbreak, the city was relocated to a nearby place which then allowed the cemetery to remain untouched.  All the factors of the Grand Plaza like its thick and protective floor helped to create a suitable environment to carry out tests and researchers.

Well, the new findings have raised a number of questions among the scientists. The reason is the scientist have been documented about the later epidemics that includes smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza. But the new epidemics have not been well-characterized. However, the new study by Bos and her team has given some important information which will help to find out the cause of mysterious mass deaths throughout ancient times.


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