(ORDO NEWS) — In an effort to better understand the origin and spread of the bubonic plague, scientists have completed a painstaking analysis of hundreds of modern and ancient genomic sequences.
In the work, the researchers used complex data and analysis to gain insight into the complex history of Y. pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.
The study includes an analysis of more than 600 genomic sequences from around the world, covering the first appearance of the plague in humans 5,000 years ago, the Plague of Justinian, the medieval Black Death and the third pandemic, which was recorded at the beginning of the 20th century.
The team examined the genomes of strains distributed around the world and of different ages and determined that Y. pestis has an unstable molecular clock.
This makes it particularly difficult to measure the rate of accumulation of mutations in its genome over time, which is then used to calculate the date of occurrence.
Because Y. pestis develops very slowly, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint where it originated.
To solve this problem, the researchers developed a new method of isolating specific populations of Y. pestis, which allowed them to identify and date five populations throughout history, including the most famous ancient pandemic lines, which they estimate originated decades or even centuries before how the pandemic has been historically documented in Europe.
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