Scientific team with Greek expert decodes Bronze Age bubonic plague genome


An international team of researchers headed by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, with Greek archaeogenticist Maria A. Spyrou, has decoded two 3,800-year-old genomes that suggest a Bronze Age origin for bubonic plague.

The team analyzed a strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis that was recovered from the remains of two plague victims found in a double burial site in the
Samara region of Russia.

Their study, which was published last week in the Nature Communications journal, shows that this strain “is the oldest sequenced to date that contains the virulence factors considered characteristic of the bubonic plague, and is ancestral to the strains that caused the Justinian Plague, the Black Death and the 19th century plague epidemics in China,” according to an announcement from the Max Planck Institute.

The bubonic plague spread throughout Europe in the 14th century and killed up to 200 million people, yet despite its historical importance, its origins remained unknown until the recent analysis put its roots 1,000 years earlier than originally thought.