Skeleton DNA identifies medieval killerposted 03-Jan-2012
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.
Skeleton DNA identifies medieval killer
Nature - Plague genome: The Black Death Decoded
Nature - A draft genome of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death
BBC Science News - Black Death genetic code ‘built’