Geographically dispersed zoonotic tuberculosis in pre-contact South American human populations

Åshild J. Vågene, Tanvi P. Honap, Kelly M. Harkins, Michael S. Rosenberg, Karen Giffin, Felipe Cárdenas-Arroyo, Laura Paloma Leguizamón, Judith Arnett, Jane E. Buikstra, Alexander Herbig, Johannes Krause, Anne C. Stone, Kirsten I. Bos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Previous ancient DNA research has shown that Mycobacterium pinnipedii, which today causes tuberculosis (TB) primarily in pinnipeds, infected human populations living in the coastal areas of Peru prior to European colonization. Skeletal evidence indicates the presence of TB in several pre-colonial South and North American populations with minimal access to marine resources— a scenario incompatible with TB transmission directly from infected pinnipeds or their tissues. In this study, we investigate the causative agent of TB in ten pre-colonial, non-coastal individuals from South America. We reconstruct M. pinnipedii genomes (10- to 15-fold mean coverage) from three contemporaneous individuals from inland Peru and Colombia, demonstrating the widespread dissemination of M. pinnipedii beyond the coast, either through human-to-human and/or animal-mediated routes. Overall, our study suggests that TB transmission in the pre-colonial era Americas involved a more complex transmission pathway than simple pinniped-to-human transfer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1195
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • General
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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