Stomach-dwelling H. pylori bacterium reveals its age

Only 20 years ago scientists first identified the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in the stomach, but it is has been on the planet far longer. A new study analyzing the distribution of certain genes in the bacterium shows that humans have been carrying it for at least 11,000 years, and migrating East Asians first introduced it into the New World thousands of years before the time of Columbus. H. pylori is associated with the development of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer.

The study, led by researchers from New York University School of Medicine, addresses the debate about how long H. pylori has been present in humans and, in particular, how long it has been in the New World. Some recent studies have suggested that Europeans first brought the bacterium to the shores of South America. But the new study provides strong evidence that migrating Asians introduced the bacteria to the New World where it has been transmitted generation after generation among the indigenous peoples.

"We know that the ancestors of present-day Amerindians migrated from East Asia to the New World more than 11,000 years ago," says Martin J. Blaser, M.D., Frederick King Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine, and Professor of Microbiology. "We used this historical event to help us understand how long the bacterium has been present in human populations. Our study shows that H. pylori has been present in humans for at least 11,000 years."

The study is published in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it will appear in print in the Nov. 12th issue of the journal.

Dr. Blaser and his NYU colleagues Guillermo Perez-Perez, DSc., Associate Professor of Medicine and Microbiology, and graduate students Chandrabali Ghose and David Pride, and researchers Maria Gloria Dominguez Bello, Ph.D., and Claudio M. Bravi, Ph.D., who are based in Venezuela and Argentina, respectively,

Contact: Pam McDonnell
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine

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