Scientists now know the cause of the famous Black Death, known as Yersinia Pestis, according to a research team led by Kirsten I. Bos and Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University and Johannes Krause of the University of Tubingen in Germany.
The team analyzed skeletal remains from Black Death victims buried in London’s East Smithfield “plague pits,” which is a location now known as the Royal Mint.
It’s a fascinating study that’s been published in the journal Nature.
It’s been 660 years since the bubonic disease caused the worst epidemic in the world killing about 50 million people.
Scientists were able to extract DNA from the teeth of four victims and reconstructed a full draft of the Black Death genome.
Building on previous research, which showed that a specific variant of the Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis) bacterium was responsible for the plague that ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, a team of German, Canadian and American scientists went on to “capture” and sequence the entire genome of the disease.
“So far, the evidence points more toward the conditions of the time than to properties of the bacterium itself. The genome recovered from the East Smithfield victims is remarkably similar to that of the present-day bacterium,” says Bos and Krause.
“The genomic data show that this bacterial strain, or variant, is the ancestor of all modern plagues we have today worldwide. Every outbreak across the globe today stems from a descendant of the medieval plague,” Poinar stated.
“With a better understanding of the evolution of this deadly pathogen, we are entering a new era of research into infectious disease,” Poinar added.