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Blog Pick of the Month – September 2009

It is the 1st of October, thus the time to award the Pick Of The Month award for September. There were 19 blog posts covering PLoS ONE articles aggregated on in September and all of them were very, very good.

This month, the winner is Alun Salt. He starts his post like this:

Imagine you had left where you were as part of an arranged marriage. Your new life was in a very different place where the climate, the crops and even the air was different to what you had known. You could settle and try and adapt to your new life away from the family you had spent so many years with. But now imagine that decades later something within you erupts to reveal you’re a long way from home. Archaeologists have been able to track the movement of people in South America due to the discovery of Leishmaniasis which is both metaphorically and literally an ugly disease. The evidence is a collection of four skulls discovered in the cemetery of Coyo Oriente, in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile.

And then, the post launches into the analysis of science, making it both clear and fun all along.

The article that Alun wrote about is: Ancient Leishmaniasis in a Highland Desert of Northern Chile by Maria Antonietta Costa, Carney Matheson, Lucia Iachetta, Agustín Llagostera and Otto Appenzeller:


Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease endemic today in many areas of South America.


We discovered morphologic and molecular evidence of ancient infections in 4 female skulls in the archaeological cemetery of Coyo Oriente, in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile. The boney facial lesions visible in the skulls could have been caused by a number of chronic infections including chronic Leishmaniasis. This diagnosis was confirmed using PCR-sequenced analyses of bone fragments from the skulls of the affected individuals.Leishmaniasis is not normally found in the high-altitude desert of Northern Chile; where the harsh climate does not allow the parasite to complete its life cycle. The presence of Leishmaniasis in ancient skulls from the region implies infection by the protozoan in an endemic area–likely, in our subjects, to have been the lowlands of North-Eastern Argentina or in Southern Bolivia.


We propose that the presence of the disease in ancient times in the high altitude desert of San Pedro de Atacama is the result of an exogamic system of patrilocal marriages, where women from different cultures followed their husbands to their ancestral homes, allowing immigrant women, infected early in life, to be incorporated in the Atacama desert society before they became disfigured by the disease. The present globalization of goods and services and the extraordinary facile movement of people across borders and continents have lead to a resurgence of infectious diseases and re-emergence of infections such as Leishmaniasis. We show here that such factors were already present millennia ago, shaping demographic trends and the epidemiology of infections just as they do today.


[Image Source]

Congratulations both to Alun and to the authors of the article. I have notified the winners and their prizes are on the way. I hope you read Alun’s post and post a comment of your own, and then go to the article itself to read it and post comments, notes and ratings there as well.

The two runner-ups this month were blog posts by Mo Costandi on Neurophilosophy and by Larry Moran on Sandwalk.

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