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Human Migration : How Lice Can Shed Light on the Past – Science Nation

Human Migration : How Lice Can Shed Light on the Past – Science Nation


MILES O’BRIEN: You might think lice are not so nice. DAVID REED: This is pretty cool, isn’t it. I love
seeing these guys. They’re so amazing to watch, and they’re so fast.
It’s really hard to keep up with them. MILES O’BRIEN: But they’re now helping scientists
scratch the surface of some big scientific mysteries. DAVID REED: People have been studying
human migration patterns for decades, many decades, based on fossil evidence and
molecular data like DNA sequences. But more recently, were also looking at
the parasites that live on humans. This a louse that’s just emerging from that
egg casing. It’s really remarkable. MILES O’BRIEN: With help from the National
Science Foundation, Mammalogist David Reed studies human migration at the Florida Museum
of Natural History. He collects lice DNA from around the world
to trace the movement and development of human populations after the first Homo sapiens left Africa
about a hundred thousand years ago. DAVID REED: There are two different types
of lice that occur in the new world. Did one come with Europeans and one with
the first peoples? And if we can find out from the lice when people got to the new world,
we can use that information to trace their routes. MILES O’BRIEN: For example, the lice could
help determine what group of people started this great migration from Asia. Did the lice on humans
in North America now have DNA more similar to lice in Mongolia, or Siberia? DAVID REED: We see that for some reason,
the parasites are telling us something different about their shared evolutionary history than what
we’ve learned already from their host. MILES O’BRIEN: Reed had a rare opportunity to go back in time and learn what lice have to
tell about humans in pre-Columbian South America. DAVID REED: A colleague of ours had some Peruvian Mummies that were rapidly mummified about
a thousand years ago, and these mummy individuals still had head lice and we were able to sequence
DNA from those ancient mummy lice. MILES O’BRIEN: Their evolutionary strengths
may be good for research but can be frustrating for parents and school kids
dealing with an infestation. DAVID REED: It’s become such an epidemic
problem, because populations of lice are
are resistant to the shampoos. MILES O’BRIEN: Who would think these tiny
creatures could hold so many clues to the mystery of human migration?
Reed is just itching to learn more. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

Comments (5)

  1. You need to edit the description, you forgot the thousand after 100-200:)

  2. When I was a little bitty kid, I heard stories of how when strangers moved in amongst distance communties, small as they all really were was that the kids who went to school and played with neighborhood children and spent the nite with them got bathed and taught how to rid themselves of lice. Poor people were dirty, torn clothes and unwashed hair with lice. They had to be taught this way thru their children for them all to learn that cleanliness is next to GODliness. And peace. Ya know?

  3. Yucky but very interesting!!!

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