Black Death Confirmed as Bubonic Plague

Aug 31, 2011, 08:38 by R.E. Christian

The Black Death that decimated the population of Europe in the 14th century was definitely caused by bubonic plague, a DNA analysis of medieval bones has shown.

While some researchers have suggested the epidemic was in fact caused by a virus such as Ebola, the analysis of DNA from a London plague burial has confirmed the "plague" bacterium Yersinia pestis was responsible, reported Tuesday.

Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, looked for Yersinia DNA in the bones of Black Death victims, a task complicated by possibility of contamination, they said.

"When we extract DNA from the skeletons, we also get DNA from their environment," researcher Hendirk Poinar said.

But careful sampling of bones and teeth using a molecular "probe" found DNA belonging to a strain of Y. pestis unlike any known today, and not found in skeletons buried elsewhere in London before the Black Death.

The findings are the first confirmation that these Black Death victims were infected with Y. pestis, Poinar said

Further study could uncover the full genetic sequence of the bacterial strain behind the Black Death, which could help explain both why it was so virulent and how it evolved, researchers said.

It might also predict if similarly devastating strains might appear in the future, they said.

Source: UPI