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Yersinia pestis DNA from skeletal remains from the 6th century AD reveals insights into Justinianic plague

Harbeck, Michaela and Seifert, Lisa and Hänsch, Stephanie and Wagner, David M. and Birdsell, Dawn and Parise, Katy L. and Wiechmann, Ingrid and Grupe, Gisela and Thomas, Astrid and Keim, Paul and Zöller, Lothar and Bramanti, Barbara and Riehm, Julia M. and Scholz, Holger C. (2013) Yersinia pestis DNA from skeletal remains from the 6th century AD reveals insights into Justinianic plague. PLoS Pathogens, 9 (5). e1003349. ISSN 1553-7366

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Publisher’s or external URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003349


Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of the disease plague, has been implicated in three historical pandemics. These include the third pandemic of the 19th and 20th centuries, during which plague was spread around the world, and the second pandemic of the 14th–17th centuries, which included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death. Previous studies have confirmed that Y. pestis caused these two more recent pandemics. However, a highly spirited debate still continues as to whether Y. pestis caused the so-called Justinianic Plague of the 6th–8th centuries AD. By analyzing ancient DNA in two independent ancient DNA laboratories, we confirmed unambiguously the presence of Y. pestis DNA in human skeletal remains from an Early Medieval cemetery. In addition, we narrowed the phylogenetic position of the responsible strain down to major branch 0 on the Y. pestis phylogeny, specifically between nodes N03 and N05. Our findings confirm that Y. pestis was responsible for the Justinianic Plague, which should end the controversy regarding the etiology of this pandemic. The first genotype of a Y. pestis strain that caused the Late Antique plague provides important information about the history of the plague bacillus and suggests that the first pandemic also originated in Asia, similar to the other two plague pandemics.

Item Type: Article
ID number or DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003349
Keywords: Anthropology; Bacillus (Bacteria); Biological anthropology; Biology; Genetics; Microbiology; Pandemics; Phylogeny; research; Research Article; Social and behavioral sciences; Yersinia diseases; Yersinia pestis
Subjects: Q Science > QR Microbiology
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Faculty/Staff
Department/Unit: Research Centers > Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2015 19:29
URI: http://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/1687

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