Scientists Sequence Black Death DNA

A 14th-century horror has met 21st-century science in the most recent research into the Black Death, the disease that claimed from a third to a half of medieval Europe’s population. The exact cause of the plague has been in dispute. Most scholars blame Yersinia pestis, a bacterium carried by flea-infested rats. Some scholars have argued that the plague was caused by the anthrax bacterium or an agent similar to the Ebola virus.

The Yersinia pestis argument has gained ground since a team of scientists extracted DNA from the teeth of skeletons in a London cemetery devoted to Black Death victims. The scientists found Y. pestis and sequenced the bacterium’s genome—its entire record of hereditary information. They found that Y. pestis was the ancestor of all modern plague bacteria, but the strain that caused the Black Death no longer exists. That’s a good thing, too, since during the Middle Ages the Black Death killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Plague still affects about 2,000 humans per year, but the modern strain does not spread like the medieval disease did, and antibiotics are usually effective against it. Still on researchers’ to-do list, though, is finding the genetic reason why the 14th-century version of the plague was so much more powerful than its modern descendants.

This work on Y. pestis is the first time that scientists have sequenced the genome of an ancient germ. The same method used for Y. pestis could be used to shed new light on other historical diseases, including predictions for their reappearance.

Image credit: DEA/A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

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  1. makayla messinger says:

    this is a great historical finding i cant wait to read even more more about it please explain more about this finding and put it with this link i hope you type or write a book about this and i will buy yhe book for it pleace link some more on it thank you 🙂

  2. Makayla Messinger says:

    i find this very interesting thank you for this information

  3. You don't know me says:

    Good to know.
    Do you think this would be good for a school project?

  4. Anne says:

    Wow! That’s freaky! And nasty too,;)

  5. i am nobody says:

    this would make a great book

  6. jacqueline says:

    what are the implications of this research?

  7. Someone says:


  8. Bryndia says:


  9. Joe says:

    Ewww, nasty but interestingly enough, it is cool

  10. know on your business says:

    weird,but cool at the same time

  11. wizard says:

    ima wizard doe!!

  12. the king says:

    i found this article in particular to be very interesting. the writer wrote clearly, and frankly

  13. michael says:


  14. Drew :) says:

    People in Europe were killed by a disease called The Black Death. The Europeians did not know why everybody were dieing. They thought that it was from flea infested rats, but it wasn’t! A team of scientists went to the grave of some of the people who died and got some DNA. The DNA that they got proved that the Black Death wasn’t from flea infested rats it was hereditary!!!

  15. Ricky says:

    ring around the roses pocket full of poses ashes ashes we all fall down – this song is actually linked to this

  16. Hannah Stahl says:

    The song ring around the roses yes is linked to this because ring around the roses is when parents would give roses to their children to smell them instead of the black people who were purposly killed and ashes is the remains of the dead bodys

    • My Name is None of Your Business says:

      actually the song means:

      Ring around the roses: is referring to the ring of pus around the sores that people got with the Black Death

      Pockets full of poses: means that people always carried poses (to ward away the Black Death) in their pockets

      Ashes, Ashes we all fall down: the ashes part means that when people died of the black death, they would burn the bodies. “we all fall down” obviously means that we all die

  17. Hannah Stahl says:


  18. anonymous says:

    ricky you are completely correct. ring around the rosy=swelling. pockets full of posey=herbs thought to cure it. ashes ashes= origionally atchoo atchoo= violent sneezing. we all fall down=short quike death that happened shortly afterword.

  19. Do I???? says:

    I think that if I were to do a study on something, this would be it.

  20. trololololololol says:

    I think this is the saddest part of mediveal history.