Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Black Death bacterium identified: Genetic analysis of medieval plague skeletons shows presence of Yersinia pestis bacteria

Date:
August 29, 2011
Source:
Universitaet Tübingen
Summary:
A team of German and Canadian scientists has shown that today's plague pathogen has been around at least 600 years. The Black Death claimed the lives of one-third of Europeans in just five years from 1348 to 1353. Until recently, it was not certain whether the bacterium Yersinia pestis -- known to cause the plague today -- was responsible for that most deadly outbreak of disease ever.

Yersinia pestis, direct fluorescent antibody stain (DFA), 200x magnification.
Credit: CDC/Courtesy of Larry Stauffer, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory

A team of German and Canadian scientists has shown that today's plague pathogen has been around at least 600 years.

Related Articles


The Black Death claimed the lives of one-third of Europeans in just five years from 1348 to 1353. Until recently, it was not certain whether the bacterium Yersinia pestis -- known to cause the plague today -- was responsible for that most deadly outbreak of disease ever. Now, the University of Tübingen's Institute of Scientific Archaeology and McMaster University in Canada have been able to confirm that Yersinia pestis was behind the great plague.

The results of the research are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous genetic tests indicating that the bacterium was present in medieval samples had previously been dismissed as contaminated by modern DNA or the DNA of bacteria in the soil. Above all, there was doubt because the modern plague pathogen spreads much more slowly and is less deadly than the medieval plague -- even allowing for modern medicine.

The international team of researchers has for the first time been able to decode a circular genome important for explaining the virulence of Y. pestis. It is called pPCP1 plasmid and comprises about 10,000 positions in the bacterium's DNA. The sample was taken from skeletons from a London plague cemetery. The working group in Tübingen, led by Dr. Johannes Krause used a new technique of "molecular fishing" -- enriching plague DNA fragments from tooth enamel and sequencing them using the latest technology. In this way, the fragments were connected up into a long genome sequence -- which turned out to be identical to modern-day plague pathogens. "That indicates that at least this part of the genetic information has barely changed in the past 600 years," says Krause.

The researchers were also able to show that the plague DNA from the London cemetery was indeed medieval. To do that, they examined damage to the DNA which only occurs in old DNA -- therefore excluding the possibility of modern contamination. "Without a doubt, the plague pathogen known today as Y. pestis was also the cause of the plague in the Middle Ages," says Krause, who is well known for his DNA sequencing of ancient hominin finds, which help trace relationships between types of prehistoric man and modern humans.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universitaet Tübingen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Verena J. Schuenemann, Kirsten Bos, Sharon Dewitte, Sarah Schmedes, Joslyn Jamieson, Alissa Mittnik, Stephen Forrest, Brian K. Coombes, James W. Wood, David J. D. Earn, William White, Johannes Krause, Hendrik N. Poinar. Targeted enrichment of ancient pathogens yielding the pPCP1 plasmid of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1105107108

Cite This Page:

Universitaet Tübingen. "Black Death bacterium identified: Genetic analysis of medieval plague skeletons shows presence of Yersinia pestis bacteria." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110829173751.htm>.
Universitaet Tübingen. (2011, August 29). Black Death bacterium identified: Genetic analysis of medieval plague skeletons shows presence of Yersinia pestis bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110829173751.htm
Universitaet Tübingen. "Black Death bacterium identified: Genetic analysis of medieval plague skeletons shows presence of Yersinia pestis bacteria." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110829173751.htm (accessed January 25, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Newsy (Jan. 24, 2015) — A string of black bear attacks has Florida officials considering lifting the ban on hunting the animals to control their population. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Killing Large Portion Of Ape Population

Ebola Killing Large Portion Of Ape Population

Newsy (Jan. 23, 2015) — Experts estimate Ebola has wiped out one-third of the world&apos;s gorillas and chimpanzees. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Controversy Shrouds Captive Killer Whale in Miami

Controversy Shrouds Captive Killer Whale in Miami

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) — Activists hope the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) will label killer whales endangered, allowing lawyers to sue a Miami aquarium to release an orca into the wild after 44 years. Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
‘Healthy’ Foods That Surprisingly Pack on Pounds

‘Healthy’ Foods That Surprisingly Pack on Pounds

Buzz60 (Jan. 23, 2015) — Some &apos;healthy&apos; foods are actually fattening. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) shines a light on the sneaky foods like nuts, seeds, granola, trail mix, avocados, guacamole, olive oil, peanut butter, fruit juices and salads that are good for you...but not so much for your waistline. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins