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Signs of Disease Introduction

Bacterial and viral DNA found among the remains of African slaves unearthed in Mexico suggests that the transatlantic slave trade may have also brought certain infectious diseases to the Americas, New Scientist reports.

Researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History's Johannes Krause analyzed the remains of three individuals from the 16th century who were buried in a mass grave in Mexico City. As they report in Current Biology, the researchers found that the three individuals were from Western or Southern Africa and their bodies exhibited signs of strenuous labor. Two of the three individuals also showed molecular evidence of infectious disease, and the researchers were able to piece together the full genomes of Treponema pallidum sub. pertenue, which causes yaws, and the hepatitis B virus.

"We didn't expect to recover genomes from such important pathogens," says first author Rodrigo Barquera, also from Max Planck, tells New Scientist. "These are the earliest human remains in the Americas in which HBV and yaws have been identified so far, suggesting that the slave trade may have introduced these diseases into Latin America very early into the colonial period."