Published On: Thu, Jan 14th, 2016

The Great Plague in the 17th century was spread by Black Death bacteria that lay dormant across Europe for 300 YEARS

Genetic analysis reveals Y. pestis bacteria may have persisted long-term in Europe

Original photograph of the triple-inhumation regarding the three male soldiers Brandenburg,   Germany,   is dated to the Thirty Years' War 1618-1648. CREDIT Seifert et al.

  • Plague which hit Europe in 14th and 17th centuries caused by bacteria
  • German victims who died 300 years apart were infected by same strain
  • The Yersinia pestis bacteria matched that found in France and UK as well
  • Researchers say this indicates virus hid in an ‘unknown rodent reservoir’

The bacteria that causes plague,  Y. pestis,  may have persisted long-term in Europe from the 14th to 17th century in an unknown reservoir, according to a study published in PLOS ONE by Lisa Seifert from Ludwig Maximilian University, Germany.

Not all researchers agree about the role Yersinia pestis played in the second plague pandemic which occurred from the 14th to 17th century. Some suggest it may have been a result of a viral disease; however, most recent research on ancient plague demonstrates that the deadly disease existed thousands of years earlier than previously thought.


Yersinia_pestis_Bacteria Wikipedia

In this study researchers recovered and analyzed ancient DNA from 30 plague victims of the second plague pandemic. They were excavated from two different burial sites in Germany, and spanning more than 300 years.

Of 30 skeletons tested, eight were positive for Yersinia pestis-specific nucleic acid. All positive individuals genetic material were highly similar to previously investigated plague victims from other European countries and had identical Y. pestis genotype.

The author suggest that in addition to the assumed continuous reintroduction of Y. pestis from central Asia in multiple waves during the second pandemic, it’s also possible that Y. pestis persisted long-term in Europe in a yet unknown reservoir host.

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