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FW: PROMED: Emerging diseases: prehistory (Review)

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Source: Carl Zimmer, Paleontology Watch - Carriers of Extinction. Discover,
July 1995.
ive/070195.3> [Note: 0R0 is zero-R-zero]

The two prevalent theories to account for the mass extinctions of large
mammals in the past have been climate change and human pressure (habitat
destruction, hunting).  They both have problems, especially when applied to
the New World.

Ross McPhee is chairman of the mammalogy department of the American Museum
of Natural History in New York. In a switch from the current preoccupation
with wildlife diseases like Ebola, Lassa and Hantaviruses infecting humans,
he suggests the reason for those extinctions, at least in the New World, was
infections brought in by the invading humans and their dogs.  Smaller
animals breed quickly and can keep ahead of almost any infection
(myxomatosis in rabbits comes to mind), but the larger, slow breeders would
mostly be doomed.

Together with Preston Marx, a virologist at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research
Center in New York, and Andrew Lackner, a veterinary pathologist at Harvard,
McPhee will look for the DNA of pathogens in megafaunal fossils.  The idea
is to detect an agent that first appears in the fossils of extinct species
at the same time as humans arrive in their area.

The article has a fascinating discussion of the classical extinction
theories and their weaknesses, and of this new idea. - Moderator
Jack Woodall, ProMED List Moderator, New York State Dept.of Health, Albany
e-mail: jack.woodall@wadsworth.org

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