Black Plague & Its Evolution

Scientists have finally broken the genetic enigma of the Black plague, one of world history’s worst diseases. They have found its current day descendants have not changed greatly over 600 years.1

What changed?

But luckily, we humans have.


With the evolution of medicine, society and our own bodies all have far outpaced the regression of the deadly bacterium that caused the Black Death.

The bacterium Yersinia pestis, in the 14th century is almostthe sameas the version currentlyin the world today of the same germ. There are just a few changes amid the over 4 million DNA building blocks, according to a study distributed online in the journal Nature.

Beyond its DNA

What this shows is that the Black Plague or Black Death was extremely deadly for reasons that are beyond its DNA. Study authors have shown that it had to do more with the circumstances of the world back then.

1 in every 3

Back in history this disease killed between 30 million and 50 million people which are about 1 of every 3 Europeans. Also it arrived at the worst time – when the climate was rapidly becoming colder, the world was in the middle of a long war and terrible famine and families were moving into quarters that were closer so the disease could easily spread and infect more. It was also probably the first period this disease had run into humans, attacking people who had no innate protection.

Altered immune system

By overwhelming the population, it altered the immune system of humans essentially wiping out those who could not handle the disease and leaving those who were strong to survive, said the co-author of McMaster University in Ontario Hendrik Poinar.

Today only antibiotics

But in today’s world simple antibiotics can stop the bacteria causing the plague, which does not seem to have the properties that allow other germs to become resistant to drugs. Also, changes in treatment of the sick, together with improve economics and sanitation, put humankind in a better position. And there is an immunity system defense that we have now, Poinar said.

Few still get the disease

People still get this disease typically from fleas from rodents or other animals, but not that often. There are still around 2000 cases each year in the world, mostly in rural areas, with a few of them emerging in secluded parts of the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this year, 2 people in New Mexico were identified with having the plague. In 1992, a Colorado veterinarian did died from a more current strain one that scientists used deeply in their study.

Original DNA used in study

To get the original DNA Black Death, scientists played dentist to dozens of skeletons. Getting an effectively total genome sequence of a bacterium that lived almost 700 years ago is unbelievably thrilling.


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