This article is from the In-Depth Report The Fight Against Multidrug Resistant Tuberculosis
60-Second Science

Ancient Bones Hold TB Clues

A team of Israeli, Palestinian and German scientists is analyzing DNA from human remains that date back to the ancient city of Jericho to try to understand more about the origins of tuberculosis. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]



Clues about modern-day tuberculosis could be found in some 6,000 year old bones. Israeli, Palestinian and German scientists have teamed up to investigate the remnants of diseases in bones excavated from the ancient city of Jericho. It’s an exercise in paleoepidemiology, the study of ancient diseases in mummified bodies and other human remains. The Jericho bones were unearthed by Dr. Kathleen Kenyon half a century ago. The DNA in the samples will be tested for tuberculosis, leprosy, leishmania and malaria. But the focus is on tuberculosis, which is the biggest killer today.

Scientists believe that tuberculosis originated in the Fertile Crescent 9-10,000 years ago. And Jericho is one of the earliest cities on earth, about 11,000 years old. So there’s a good chance TB could have gotten a start there. Researchers will be studying how early cities—the first time people lived in crowds—affected the DNA of microbes and their human hosts. They’ll also be looking at the remains of animals, which could have been disease vectors. Scientists on the team believe there’s sufficient DNA in the samples to provide new information about the origin and evolution of TB, which could help us combat it today.


—Cynthia Graber

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