Skeleton DNA identifies medieval killer

posted 03-Jan-2012

Museum of London

Scientists reconstructed the genome of the Black Death germ from DNA fragments in victims’ teeth.

The research, reported in the journal Nature, confirms suspicions that the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, was responsible for the devastating plague that killed 100 million Europeans between 1347 and 1351.

Yersinia pestis still causes plague outbreaks today but appears so much less deadly that some scientists have argued that it could not have been responsible for the medieval plague.

In fact, the analysis showed that all modern strains of plague bacteria are directly descended from the medieval bacterium and that they have changed surprising little since the mid-14th century.

This is the first time that the genome of any ancient microbe has been pieced together from skeletal remains.

According to lead scientist, Dr Hendrik Poinar, the same techniques can now be used to study the genomes of other ancient pathogens, perhaps helping us to predict future pandemics:

“We are entering a new era of research into infectious disease” Dr Poinar said.

Most Recent Comments Readers Recommended


I think that advances in Genetic information is important. However, we all need to make sure that with the precious cost of information, we keep in mind the fragile state of some peoples mental health. Telling someone that they have found something out that might otherwise have been hidden for decades, could produce post traumatic stress disorder and depression, amongst other side effects. Genetic counselling is a must, if we intend to dig deeper in to the past and into things that tell us about what may happen in the future.

Posted : 16-Jun-2012

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i personally believe that technology will deveop and alter,however with many errors and false assumpions of fuure paradimedics. i am pleaased to be informed that theera has changedd, however i am shorly disappoited with the lack of conrol on these experiments. thank you. this is unethical and against human nature policys.

Posted : 14-Jun-2012

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Related Links

Nature - Plague genome: The Black Death Decoded
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Nature - A draft genome of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death
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BBC Science News - Black Death genetic code ‘built’
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