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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/28/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

Debilitating disease attacks the skin, nerves

Leprosy, a debilitating disease that attacks both the skin and nerves, has plagued mankind before Biblical times. A new study claims that leprosy is probably the oldest infectious disease in humans with roots stretching back millions of years.

The World Health Organization says more than 200,000 people worldwide are infected with leprosy, most of them in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The World Health Organization says more than 200,000 people worldwide are infected with leprosy, most of them in Africa, Asia and Latin America.


By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (

2/28/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: Leprosy, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Two leprosy-causing bacteria deriving from a last common bacterial ancestor around 10 million years ago has been confirmed by a scientist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The discovery proved that early man suffered with the disease.

The scourge is still very much with us. There are still hundreds of thousands of new cases of leprosy across the world annually. If left untreated, it can lead to disabilities and eventually death.

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Pathologist Xiang-Yang Han in 2008 discovered a new leprosy bacterium. He has since analyzed 20 genes of Mycobacterium lepromatosis and the better known Mycobacterium leprae bacteria.

Researchers found that the two bacteria came from a last common ancestor around 10 million years ago, according to the study in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

It was previously believed that the common bacteria ancestor underwent a massive reductive evolution that resulted in inactivation of approximately 40 percent of all the genes in its genome.

Scientist Francisco Silva, of the University of Valencia's Evolutionary Genetics Unit, along with Professor Han, says that leprosy is a strict human disease that stretches back millions of years.

A number of pieces of evidence backed up their theory.

Leprosy surprisingly is not highly contagious. It can only be caught by coming into close contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated, severe leprosy.

The World Health Organization says more than 200,000 people worldwide are infected with leprosy, most of them in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Leprosy bacteria cannot live outside the human body. There is the rare exception of wild armadillos thought to have been infected by American explorers a few hundred years ago.

Over 400 strains of Mycobacterium leprae analyzed so far have been found to have virtually identical genomes, suggesting that human beings carried the leprosy bacteria when departing Africa around 100,000 years ago to populate the rest of the world.

This ultimately points to the fact that leprosy is a sign of mature parasitic life far older than 100,000 years.

The oldest age of the leprosy bacteria's pseudogenes suggest that gene inactivation began approximately 20 million years ago, which is probably the point when the ancestor of leprosy bacteria jumped to our early human ancestors and transitioned from free-living to strictly parasitic.

"In particular, tracing the ultimate origin of leprosy through the parasitic adaptive evolution of the leprosy bacteria is rather insightful, not only for this single disease but also for our better understanding of the mechanism behind other human infections," Dr. Han says.

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