Britain: Scientists Reconstruct Black Death Plague with Genetic Material Taken from Ancient Corpses Buried Under Royal Mint

October 13th, 2011

Don’t look at me. I just work here.

Via: BBC:

The genetic code of the germ that caused the Black Death has been reconstructed by scientists for the first time.

The researchers extracted DNA fragments of the ancient bacterium from the teeth of medieval corpses found in London.

They say the pathogen is the ancestor of all modern plagues.

The research, published in the journal Nature, suggests the 14th Century outbreak was also the first plague pandemic in history.

Humans have rarely encountered an enemy as devastating as the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Between 1347 and 1351 it sparked the Black Death, an infection carried by fleas that spread rapidly across Europe killing around 50 million people.

Now scientists have uncovered some of the genetic secrets of the plague, thanks to DNA fragments drilled from the teeth of victims buried in a graveyard in London’s East Smithfield.

Professor Johannes Krause from the University of Tubingen, Germany, was a member of the research team. He said all current strains circulating in the world are directly related to the medieval bacterium.

“It turns out that this ancient Yersinia pestis strain is very close to the common ancestor of all modern strains that can infect humans,” he said.

“It’s the grandmother of all plague that’s around today.”

Rebuilding the genetic code of the bacterium from DNA fragments was not easy, say the scientists.

They removed teeth from skeletons found in an ancient graveyard in London located under what is now the Royal Mint.

Dr Kirsten Bos from McMaster University explained how the process worked.

“If you actually crack open an ancient tooth you see this dark black powdery material and that’s very likely to be dried up blood and other biological tissues.

“So what I did was I opened the tooth and opened the pulp chamber and with a drill bit made one pass through and I took out only about 30 milligrams of material, a very very small amount and that’s the material I used to do the DNA work.”

From the dental pulp the researchers were able to purify and enrich the pathogen’s DNA, and exclude material from human and fungal sources.

The researchers believe the techniques they have developed in this work can be used to study the genomes of many other ancient pathogens.

One Response to “Britain: Scientists Reconstruct Black Death Plague with Genetic Material Taken from Ancient Corpses Buried Under Royal Mint”

  1. PeterofLoneTree Says:

    Smoking cigarettes is an effective way of countering the ill effects of the Plague or Black Death as it was known.
    Why else is there such a hue and cry about the “bad” effects of smoking?

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