HomeHEALTHStudy pushes origin of smallpox back another 2,000 years

Study pushes origin of smallpox back another 2,000 years

by Kara Murez

healthday reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11, 2023 (HealthDay News) — While the origin of smallpox has remained a mystery for centuries, researchers now believe it dates back 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Until recently, the earliest genetic evidence of smallpox, the variola virus, was from the 1600s. And in 2020, researchers found evidence of it in the dental remains of Viking skeletons, pushing its existence back 1,000 years.

Now, Italian scientists have used a mathematical equation to pinpoint the start of smallpox, and combined with traces of smallpox seen on ancient Egyptian mummies, they have pushed back the origin of the virus by 3,800 years.

First author Dr. from the Scientific Institute IRCCS Eugenio Medea in Italy. “Variola virus may be much older than we thought,” said Diego Forni.

“This is important because it confirms the historical hypothesis that smallpox was present in ancient societies. It is also important to consider that there are aspects of virus evolution that must be taken into account when doing this type of work,” Forney said. said in a news release from the Society for Microbiology.

Smallpox was recently eradicated and, relatively speaking, killed at least 300 million people in the 20th century.

In the new study, researchers found that all types of smallpox originated from a common ancestor. A small fraction of the genetic components found in Viking-era genomes persisted into the 18th century.

To estimate the origin of the virus, the researchers then calculated something called a “time-dependent rate of occurrence”.

This means that the speed of growth depends on the length of time over which it is being measured. According to the study authors, this means that viruses change more slowly over shorter time frames, something well documented in DNA viruses.

Using a mathematical equation for a time-dependent rate of occurrence, the research team hypothesized that the first emergence of smallpox may date back to Egyptian times: ancient mummies including Pharaoh Ramses V, who was killed in 1157 BC, contained suspicious marks. .

The findings were published online Jan. 9 in the journal microbial genomics,

more information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on smallpox.

Source: Society for Microbiology, news release, January 9, 2023

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