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Sunday 25th August 2019

Genetic code for Black Death reconstructed

13th October 2011

Scientists have reconstructed the genetic code of the germ that caused the Black Death.


It is the first time researchers have been able to unlock the code after they extracted DNA fragments of the bacterium from the teeth of medieval corpses found in a graveyard in London’s East Smithfield.

In their research published in the journal Nature, they say the pathogen is the ancestor of all modern plagues.

The findings also indicate that the 14th Century outbreak was also the first plague pandemic in history with some 50 million people dying between 1347 and 1351 from the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which sparked the Black Death.

Researcher Professor Johannes Krause from the University of Tubingen in Germany said all current strains circulating in the world are directly related to the medieval bacterium.

He said: “It turns out that this ancient Yersinia pestis strain is very close to the common ancestor of all modern strains that can infect humans. It's the grandmother of all plague that's around today.”

In the past, researchers have seen the Black Death as the attest in a line of plague outbreaks dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, though the Justinian Plague of the 6th Century, which killed 100 million people, was not caused by the same agent as the Black Death.

“It suggests they were either caused by a Yersinia pestis strain that is completely extinct and it didn't leave any descendants which are still around today or it was caused by a different pathogen that we have no information about yet,” said Professor Krause.


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