Controlled fire use in early humans might have triggered the evolutionary emergence of tuberculosis

Rebecca H. Chisholm, James M. Trauer, Darren Curnoe, Mark M. Tanaka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC), a wildly successful group of organisms and the leading cause of death resulting from a single bacterial pathogen worldwide. It is generally accepted that MTBC established itself in human populations in Africa and that animal-infecting strains diverged from human strains. However, the precise causal factors of TB emergence remain unknown. Here, we propose that the advent of controlled fire use in early humans created the ideal conditions for the emergence of TB as a transmissible disease. This hypothesis is supported by mathematical modeling together with a synthesis of evidence from epidemiology, evolutionary genetics, and paleoanthropology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9051-9056
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2016


  • cultural evolution
  • epidemiology
  • mathematical modeling
  • pathogen evolution
  • tuberculosis

Cite this