Saturday, May 25, 2013

Indiana Jones Biochemistry: The Prevenge of the Black Death

The Black Plague had a prequel.

It's clear that Yersinia pestis was the microbe behind the Black Plague in the 14th century, and there was a worldwide sequel pandemic in the 19th/20th century. But in the 6th-8th centuries a plague swept the Byzantine empire, called Justinian's plague. Now a DNA analysis of the remains of plague victims shows that this plague was caused by Yersinia pestis as well -- and it originated in Asia like the other two pandemics.

This biochemical archaelogy isn't exactly like the Indiana Jones movies, but I find it pretty exciting to see the recurrence of this insidious enemy throughout human history. (Maybe it's more like Doctor Who?) Read the paper here.

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