Polish, US researchers find tuberculosis in prehistoric reptile

The specimen of “Proneusticosaurus” silesiacus as preserved today

Warsaw (AFP) – Polish researchers on Wednesday announced that they had discovered traces of tuberculosis on a 245-million-year-old skeleton of a prehistoric marine reptile.

Until now, “the oldest known traces of tuberculosis went back 17,000 years,” Dawid Surmik, paleontologist and principal author of the study that appeared in the journal Royal Society Open Science, told AFP. 

The skeleton of the prehistoric reptile, which looked like a small crocodile, was discovered in the southern Polish town of Gogolin at the start of the 20th century. 

But it is only recently that researchers had shown interest in a series of bony growths observed on the animal. 

Surmik examined these protrusions in collaboration with US researcher Bruce Rothschild and Polish paleobiologist Katarzyna Janiszewska. They were able to rule out cancer as the cause, as well as other illnesses. 

“We know nothing about this reptile — like whether it lived in groups or alone — and we don’t know how it got infected. Perhaps via another animal’s bite,” Surmik said.