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Scientists Reconstruct Black Death Pathogen that Killed 50 Million People
October 21, 2011
Scientists have reconstructed the genetic code of the germ responsible for the Black Death, an infection carried by fleas that led to the deaths of around 50 million Europeans.
Considered by some experts to be the first pandemic in history, DNA from the 14th Century outbreak was recovered from the teeth of victims buried in a graveyard in London’s East Smithfield.
Researchers drilled the teeth, finding the DNA fragments of the ancient bacterium that ultimately led Professor Johannes Krause from the University of Tubingen, Germany, and his team of scientists to reconstruct the very virus that wiped out 50 million people.
Professor Krause explained the process:
“If you actually crack open an ancient tooth you see this dark black powdery material and that’s very likely to be dried up blood and other biological tissues. So what I did was I opened the tooth and opened the pulp chamber and with a drill bit made one pass through and I took out only about 30 milligrams of material, a very very small amount and that’s the material I used to do the DNA work.”
Reconstructing the Black Death opens its genetic code to be weaponized, unleashed
The bacterium responsible for the Black Death, known as Yersinia pestis, is very close to the common ancestor of all modern strains that can affect humans — the grandmother of all plagues, according to Professor Krause. It is responsible for sparking the Black Death between 1347 and 1351, and virtually all plagues and bacterial strains that affect humans to follow. The reconstruction of the Black Death bacterium Yersinia pestis opens the door to potential weaponization, resulting in perhaps the most potent bioweapon ever created by human kind.
Weaponizing the Black Death bacterium could potentially kill hundreds of millions, and be hundreds of times more potent than the original strand. In the event that this bacterium falls into the wrong hands, such as in the event of global strife, nefarious individuals could create an artificial global pandemic.
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