Seals and Sea Lions Helped Spread Tuberculosis Among Humans, Are Jerks

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Seals and sea lions: Sure, they’re enchanting and frequently adorable sea creatures (at least when they’re not attacking Shakira), but did you know they are also gross piles of maritime sickness, and that they helped spread human tuberculosis? That’s what a new paper in Nature suggests, at least.

To the press release:

Scientists who study tuberculosis have long debated its origins. New research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the disease to South America and transmitted it to Native people there before Europeans landed on the continent.

The paper, “Pre-Columbian Mycobacterial Genomes Reveal Seals as a Source of New World Human Tuberculosis,” was published in Nature.

We found that the tuberculosis strains were most closely related to strains in pinnipeds, which are seals and sea lions,” said researcher Anne Stone, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change professor

“The age of exploration is a time when people are moving really long distances around the world and coming into contact with others. It’s a time when a lot of disease spread,” Stone said. “This opens up a lot of new questions. It fits the bioarcheological evidence that shows the oldest evidence for tuberculosis in South America.”

History is basically just diseases zigzagging across the globe, helped along by sickly sea creatures.