We don’t cover enough from South America, to our shame, so its nice to come across an intriguing little story from Peru that is at once intriguing and instructive for learners of genetics of all ages.   .
The basics are clear enough: a team of researchers from the University of Pisa have dug up a mummy which sheds all sorts of light on the cultural practices of the ancient inhabitants of Cusco, Peru. As well as what diseases they endured, which were many and painful. But for our purposes, they seem also to have recovered a range of antibiotic resistant genes in the gut of the mummy. So what is going on? Because it also illustrates some key points on genetics, evolution and the central doctrines of biology.
1 The genes in question are clearly from bacteria which were living in the victim’s gut, although you’d have to read the articles carefully to extract this key fact
2 What were they resistant to?
3 How did they get there? This is not a problem for classic genetic theory, as random mutations are thrown up all the time, but it might be for archaeologists.
4 Because the theory also states that mutations are preserved if and only if they are selected. The Ur-Tiger was a mutation with stripes-all its brother and sister kitties were plain. But because the stripes let it hide better, it prospered and left more genes in the next generations, including the mutation.
5 Whereby, ergo, whatever you call it-was something selecting for antibiotic resistance in Peru all those years ago? We’d love to know what. Did they have some kind of bug-killing drug, that hasn’t been found yet?
Antibiotic resistance plagued us then, as it does now. Time to pressure your leaders to do something about it, instead of wasting all our time in useless ego-driven conflicts about lines on maps.
#genetics #peru #incas #mummy #disease