Isolating syphilis (Treponema pallidum) DNA from ancient specimens has usually been very unsuccessful. Rafael Montiel at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico, collaborated with Assumpció Malgosa in the Universitat Autònoma, Spain, and others to amplify T. pallidum DNA obtained from two newborns affected by syphilis from birth. These 16th-17th century individuals were the most ancient to date in which T. pallidum DNA was successfully detected. It’s likely that the preservation of T. pallidum DNA was favored by the bacteria’s rapid dissemination through the newborns’ immature skeletons.
Did you know? Scientists now believe that the crew of Christopher Columbus possibly brought syphilis back to Europe.