Could the Black Death strike again?

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iol scitech jan 30 black plague

AFP

An archaeologist working to uncover skeletons from what is understood to be a mass grave for victims of the Black Death, discovered when excavations were made to create a Crossrail tunnel shaft under Charterhouse Square in central London.

London - A strain of plague which has killed up to 100 million people could strike again, scientists warn.

Scientists have linked the Black Death, which killed 50 million Europeans in the 1300s, and The Plague of Justinian, which struck 800 years earlier, suggesting they were caused by “distinct” strains of the same pathogen.

Tiny samples of the plague bacteria were taken from skeletons belonging to two victims of the Justinian plague, which killed up to 50 million people across Asia, North Africa, Arabia and Europe.

Fragments of DNA were found in their 1 500-year-old teeth and used to recreate the bacteria’s whole genetic code.

Dave Wagner, professor in the Centre for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University, said: “We know the bacterium Y. pestis has jumped from rodents into humans throughout history and rodent reservoirs of plague still exist today in many parts of the world.

“If the Justinian plague could erupt in the human population, cause a massive pandemic, and then die out, it suggests it could happen again.”

Ancient DNA expert Professor Hendrik Poinar said the study – published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases – “is both fascinating and perplexing”. - Daily Mail

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