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Most ancient case of tuberculosis found in 500,000-year-old human; points to modern health issues
Date:12/6/2007

people demonstrate a higher than average rate of infection, including Gujarati Indians who live in London, and Senegalese conscripts who served with the French army during World War I.

The research team identified two shared characteristics in the communities: a path of migration from low, tropical latitudes to northern temperate regions and darker skin color.

People with dark skin produce less vitamin D because the skin pigment melanin blocks ultraviolet light. And, when they live in areas with lower ultraviolet radiation such as Europe, their immune systems can be compromised.

It is likely that Homo erectus had dark skin because it evolved in the tropics, Kappelman explained. After the species moved north, it had to adapt to more seasonal climates. The researchers hypothesize the young males body produced less vitamin D and this deficiency weakened his immune system, opening the door to tuberculosis.

Skin color represents one of biologys most elegant adaptations, Kappelman said. The production of vitamin D in the skin serves as one of the bodys first lines of defenses against a whole host of infections and diseases. Vitamin D deficiencies are implicated in hypertension, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Before antibiotics were invented, doctors typically treated tuberculosis by sending patients to sanatoria where they were prescribed plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

No one knew why sunshine was integral to the treatment, but it worked, Kappelman said. Recent research suggests the flush of ultraviolet radiation jump-started the patients immune systems by increasing the production of vitamin D, which helped to cure the disease.


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Contact: John Kappelman
jkappelman@mail.utexas.edu
512-471-0055
University of Texas at Austin  
Source:Eurekalert

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