Scientists study diseases to find cures, but they also often try to find out how certain pathogens came to infect humans in the first place. Where infectious bacteria stems from is extremely important, as looking to the past can help researchers predict the future, and prevent the release of new infectious diseases.
But some illnesses are a puzzle. Tuberculosis has long mystified scientists: it’s an ancient human disease that affects millions of people worldwide, but no one knows where it came from.
Those who follow the history of alien invasions on Earth might have their own answers, but a study put out by researchers in Australia has an exciting new explanation.
Researchers are saying that the discovery of something dear to human hearts could be at the root of the cause: fire.
Researchers out of the University of New South Wales in Sydney say the exact causes of TB remain unknown, but it looks like humans learning to use fire for cooking, warmth and other uses somehow created the ideal conditions needed for tuberculosis to hit the stage.
The new hypothesis is supported by mathematical modeling and a synthesis of evidence from epidemiology, evolutionary genetics, and paleoanthropology.
And it could be a big one.
“Our results have serious and cautionary implications for the emergence of new infectious diseases,” the researchers stated on pnas.org. “Feedback between cultural innovation and alteration of living conditions can catalyze unexpected changes with potentially devastating consequences lasting thousands of years,” they continued.
What new diseases lie waiting to be released in our environment? Who knows, but since TB is, as the study states, the leading cause of death resulting from a single bacterial pathogen worldwide, this new discovery could be opening a new avenue with large impact.