http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/11/ancient-siberians-skeleton-yields-links-to-europe-and-native-americans/ Ancient Siberian’s skeleton yields links to Europe and Native Americans Enlarge / One of the stone figures found in the region of Siberia where the new genome originated. Kelly E Graf All the evidence indicates that the Americas were populated by people who migrated across the Bering Sea at a time when the ice age lowered ocean levels enough to do it. Well, almost all the evidence. Some of the oldest skeletons found in the new world have features that look somewhat European, a link supported by a few pieces of DNA found in some Native American populations. Now, a 20,000-year-old skeleton from Siberia may help clear up the confusion. The skeleton indicates that the confusion may be caused by a combination of migration and population structure within Asia at the time. The end result is that some exchanges of DNA only went in one direction—and the donors then moved on to other locations. Genetically, Native Americans share a strong affinity with East Asian peoples. There are a couple of exceptions, however, such as a somewhat European-looking mitochondrial DNA sequence found in some Native American populations. But that could be viewed as a product of later contamination by European visitors. What’s harder to understand is the presence of features in skeletons such as Kennewick Man, who died over 7,000 years ago in what’s now Washington state. Kennewick Man didn’t look very much like modern Native American populations, raising questions about how he ended up in the Pacific Northwest at that time. A skeleton called MA-1, found in the Altai region of Siberia, may provide a way to tidy up this confusion. MA-1 lived in an area northwest of Lake Baikal (north of Mongolia) roughly 24,000 years ago. This was in the heart of the most recent ice age shortly before a period called the Last Glacial Maximum. Despite the undoubtedly harsh conditions that prevailed, the area was producing some of the earliest known artwork based on human figures at the time. DNA work yielded a mitochondrial genome from the individual, as well as a 1X coverage of the entire nuclear genome. (That means that every base is, on average, sequenced once. But since the sequences are random, some areas don’t actually get sequenced at all, while a few will end up being sequenced dozens of times.) It’s not enough to say anything about what this individual’s genes were doing, but it is enough to figure out who he’s related to. And that turns out to be a rather complicated story. Despite his location near Mongolia, the MA-1 sequence looks like it branched off from the group that eventually populated Europe and Western Asia. The mitochondrial genome, although it belongs to a lineage that seems to have died out, looks similar to those of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers who populated Europe at the time. The Y chromosome also looks like it split off near the base of the tree that includes modern Europeans. But it also looks like it resides near the root of Native American populations, while it doesn’t show up in any modern East Asian population we’ve looked at. The same thing happened when the researchers looked at the full nuclear genome. The sequences typically looked like they were near the base of the modern Eurasian family tree, but a few also had strong links to a native Brazilian population. Statistically, the authors find that somewhere between 20 to 40 percent of MA-1’s genome contributed to the people who populated the Americas. Again, the nearby cultures of East Asia, such as the Chinese, do not share these sequences. How is all of this explained? The authors turn to the concept of population structure, which occurs when groups of the same species end up reproductively isolated from each other. For example, MA-1’s population, despite being rather close to China, did not seem to have interbred with the ancestors of the Han Chinese (the Gobi desert possibly having something to do with that). However, the ancestral population of the East Asians split off a group that did interbreed with MA-1’s relatives but then promptly left Asia for the Americas. This genetic intermingling seems to have taken place very early, given that all Native American populations tested seem to be about equally distant to MA-1’s genome. To confuse matters further, MA-1’s population seems to have wandered in the opposite direction, settling in Western Asia and Europe. A bit of sequence from a 14,000-year-old skeleton from the region, however, suggests that the population was tough enough to ride out the Last Glacial Maximum in Siberia. The work is another great indication of how our ability to work with ancient DNA is completely revolutionizing how we understand humanity’s past. And, as in the case with the Denisovans and Neanderthals, that past is a complicated mix of interbreeding, migration, and population structure. Nature, 2013. DOI: 10.1038/nature12736 (About DOIs).
This is the latest in a series of posts on the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel, which are currently being processed with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.
The U. S. Supreme Court recently upheld New York City’s policy of preventing unvaccinated students from attending public schools while another student has a vaccine-preventable disease. This is just the latest in long line of judicial decisions which addresses the limits of government control over the health of the individual. Over one hundred years ago, during a smallpox epidemic which ravaged the city, the very same situation was addressed in the courts of Brooklyn. The city’s Department of Health was determined to actively control the spread of the disease, often coming into conflict with those citizens whom they were trying to protect.
Prior to the development of a vaccine, smallpox was one of the most feared diseases on the planet – it was extremely contagious, and had killed and disfigured millions since ancient times. The first traditional vaccine was developed in England in the late 18th century, and by 1800 it was introduced to the United States. While the vaccine was highly effective at reducing the spread of the disease, from the beginning there was resistance to state imposed vaccination programs. Laws varied from region to region. In Europe, Germany and England had made vaccination compulsory. Massachusetts introduced the first mandatory vaccination policy in the U.S. In New York, there were no compulsory vaccination laws, excepting children who attended public schools.[i]
In 1892, about 20 years since the last epidemic, small pox returned to Brooklyn. At first the cases remained isolated. Then, from December 1893 to February 1894, there were about 70 newly diagnosed cases a month. By March of 1894 the number of infections had increased to 150. Brooklyn’s Department of Health, led by Dr. Z. Taylor Emery, decided it was time to take action. The department operated under the premise that the masses (i.e. the poor, but also business owners and landlords), “needed the guidance of enlightened and scientifically trained professionals to ensure the public good.”[ii] To that end, they began a policy of vaccination and quarantine that sometimes overstepped the bounds of New York law.
The department’s strategy of vaccination and quarantine was something akin to the military tactic of “shock and awe.” The 1894 annual report of the Department of Health describes the typical response to a reported case of smallpox: “As occupants of infected houses were sometimes known to escape therefrom to other parts of the city, before the removal of the patient, it was found necessary to put a police quarantine on the house pending arrival of the ambulance, the disinfection of the premises, and vaccination of the inmates. As soon as precautions were complied with, quarantine was raised, so as to inconvenience the occupant as little as possible.” As you can imagine, many residents found the process to be somewhat more severe than a mere inconvenience, as they were essentially placed under house arrest while their clothes, beddings, and other household goods which might be harboring the disease were destroyed.[iii]
Sometimes the afflicted were allowed to convalesce at home, but more often than not they were sent to the Kingston Avenue Hospital, also known as the Contagious Disease Hospital, in Flatbush (the hospital was located at Kingston Ave. and Fenimore St., today the site of the High School for Public Service). The hospital was soon filled to capacity, and tents were erected to house even more patients. Naturally, local residents were alarmed by the influx of disease carriers. The hospital was threatened with arson, and soon guards were stationed on the premises to protect both the patients and staff.[iv]
The city was pro-active in its vaccination efforts. Over two dozen free vaccination clinics were set up across the city. A team of vaccinators was sent to the 27th Ward (Bushwick), where a large German population (which was largely resistant to vaccinations) resided. The city focused on areas where large groups of people congregated, specifically schools, factories, and lodging houses. In one day, 2,000 workers were vaccinated at the Havenmeyer & Elder sugar refinery alone. [v]
When a new case of smallpox was reported, not only was the entire household vaccinated on the spot, but teams would canvass all surrounding residences to prevent the spread of the disease. While the health department was not empowered to coerce the vaccination of citizens, they used quarantines (which were allowed by New York state law to prevent the spread of disease) to strong arm anyone who resisted. Quarantined homes were marked with a yellow flag, and policemen were stationed outside to prevent anyone was entering or leaving the home. Sometimes even food deliveries were prevented from entering the quarantined homes.[vi]
The policies of Brooklyn’s Department of Health led to a number of legal problems for the city, and there are several cases related to the epidemic in the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel.
Mary A. Ferrer sued the city for false imprisonment. She claimed to be misdiagnosed with small pox (while actually suffering from malaria), and was held at the Kingston Avenue Hospital for a week, all the while being exposed to the deadly disease.[vii]
John Salmon sued for injuries received as a result of his vaccination. According to the plaintiff, a health department official came to his home and asked if he was vaccinated. When Salmon indicated that he was not, the health official falsely declared that the vaccination was mandatory, and Salmon reluctantly submitted. Three days later his skin began to blister all over his body and he was confined to a hospital for three months.[viii]
Robert W. Goggin filed suit against city for the deaths of both his wife and daughter. He claimed that city failed to remove a small pox carrier from his apartment building, and as a result his wife and two children contracted the disease and were quarantined at the hospital. His wife soon died, and his daughter, who was later sent to the Home for Destitute Children, died of measles and pneumonia.[ix]
N.Y. state law regarding vaccination and public schools. Scrimshaw, Frederick and Charles A. Walters – Public school admittance and vaccination disputes, 1894-1895. Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society
The most significant legal case found in the collection involves the vaccination of school children. In 1893, the New York state legislature passed an act to provide for the compulsory education of children, which also allowed school boards to appoint physicians to vaccinate students. Children were inspected for vaccination scars by the physicians, and any student who was suspected of being unvaccinated was prevented from attending public school.
This practice was challenged by the Kings County Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League, which was led by Dr. Charles A. Walters. He argued that the city had no right to exclude unvaccinated children from public schools. The case was heard by Judge Bartlett, who ultimately sided with the city. In his decision, he indicated that public school education was a privilege, not a right. Since the public school system was a creation of the state it was subject to reasonable regulation, especially regarding the health and welfare of the community. He still did not go so far as to endorse compulsory vaccination for all citizens, noting, “To vaccinate a person against his will, without legal authority to do so, would be an assault.”[x]
While this case ended in the city’s favor, their aggressive quarantine policy would not hold up in the courts. That same year a judge ruled that the health department had no right to quarantine the homes of citizens who had not contracted small pox. Legal challenges to compulsory vaccination continued into the 20th century, culminating in 1905 when the U.S. Supreme Court, “affirmed the right of the majority to override individual liberties when the health of the community required it.”[xi] Of course, as the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding school vaccinations indicates, the debate over the government’s role in public health remains unsettled to this day.
[i] “Between persuasion and compulsion: Smallpox control in Brooklyn and New York.” Colgrove, J. Bull. Hist. Med. 2004 Summer;78(2):349-78.
[iii] Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Brooklyn, 1894.
[iv] “Brooklyn’s Smallpox Outbreak,” N.Y. Sun, 29 March 1894.
[v] “Between persuasion and compulsion: Smallpox control in Brooklyn and New York. Colgrove, J. Bull. Hist. Med. 2004 Summer;78(2):349-78.
[vii] Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society.
[xi] “Between persuasion and compulsion: Smallpox control in Brooklyn and New York.” Colgrove, J. Bull. Hist. Med. 2004 Summer;78(2):349-78.
Each year for the past 28 years I’ve tried to change how I teach my courses (I call them ‘Initiatives’). This means changing the materials I use, adding, changing, or removing the activities I use to engage students, etc. Some of my ideas work wonderfully, others crash and burn miserably. Those initiatives that have survived to the present day have earned their continued use.
My measure of a worthy initiative is based on how well a student can find the ‘value’ in that knowledge and/ or the path to acquiring that knowledge. Nowadays, the worthiness of any classroom instruction is measured by a test score. Low test scores => poor classroom instruction. This is a misguided view and a prime contributor to poor teaching styles. I have succumbed to the pressure from administrators and colleagues in the past. Often, I end up with students performing well on exams and a deep feeling that I did not remain true to a teacher’s creed or my responsibilities to the founding fathers of our nation. While some of my most successful “test” years have also been some of my most unappealing years professionally, I continue to try to satisfy both camps: Maintain high test scores vs. sparking self-motivated inquiry. Very difficult indeed.
As I prepare to welcome a new crop of youngsters to my class, I have to brace myself for the inevitable “Why are we doing this?” question. I know that these students fully expect me to stand in the front of the class and “tell them what they need to know”. This is the way they’ve been taught up to now. It’s the way their parents expect me to teach them. If I vary from that norm, I’ll get questions and stares aimed at me. If the test scores are high, no one will question me. If they are not to the administrator’s or parents’ expectations, I’m targeted. Students bear the joys or scars of their education. But, they have been ‘programmed’ to accept a number on a test/ report card as a measure of their success. Through experience and natural inclination I find this scenario as futile.
This year, I’m posting this TED Talk by Dr. Sugata Mitra for the student and parent who wants to know “Why are we doing this?” I ask that you watch/ listen to this man. Then, when you’re in class and I employ a technique that is different, unusual, or unknown to you, ask yourself how those children in the slums of India would have reacted.