While the date of the earliest use of fire is also subject to debate, Tanaka suggested that it probably came before tuberculosis.
In the study, researchers used a mathematical model to explore how a benign soil-dwelling microorganism like Mycobacterium tuberculosis might develop into a transmissible pathogen.
"In the absence of fire, this [mutation process] would be ... extremely unlikely because the bacterium ... lives in the soil and water, and doesn't transmit between people because it's not adapted to humans," Tanaka said.
But adding fire to the mix significantly increases the risk of the bacteria hitting the mutation jackpot.
"You get multiple sporadic cases, and most of them fail in the sense that they fail to evolve and so there are multiple failed chains of transmission, but eventually the right mutations come along and the whole thing is triggered."
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Paleopathologist Piers Mitchell from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at University of Cambridge said the change from harmless soil bacteria to deadly disease would not have happened overnight.
"People seem to have been using fire for hundreds of thousands of years, so it's clearly not a case of 'fire this week, tuberculosis the next week,'" Mitchell said.
But he said the idea that controlled fire enabled the emergence of tuberculosis was certainly plausible, and fitted with the hypothesis that human technological developments could have health consequences.
"It makes sense if our invention of technologies changes our environment, and some bits of that will be good and some bits may, in unexpected ways, be bad," Mitchell said.