Journal of Biological Research (Oct 2021)

The Paleoepidemiology of American Trypasonomiasis (Chagas disease)

  • Wilmar Salo,
  • William C. Auferheide,
  • Michael Madden,
  • John Streitz,
  • Jane Buikstra,
  • Gino Fornaciari

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 80, no. 1


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Ancient DNA methodology was applied to extract and amplify a segment of kinetoplast DNA of Trypanosoma cruzi in soft tissue specimens from about 300 spontaneously mummified human bodies from the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and southern Peru. A DNA probe was then employed to hybridize with the amplicon. Results indicate that about 41% of the population in that geographic area were infected with the trypanosome over the past 9000 years. The epidemiological implications of these findings are discussed. It is also emphasized that this and several other paleoepidemiological studies in progress have established that population-study cohorts of mummies now can generate statistically valid paleoepidemiological investigations capable of testing hypotheses. These reflect the maturation of the academic discipline of the scientific study of mummies.