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Author: Kirsten I Bos
Research area: microbiology

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Eighteenth century Yersinia pestis genomes reveal the long-term persistence of an historical plague focus

Created on 12th January 2016

Kirsten I Bos; Alexander Herbig; Jason Sahl; Nicholas Waglechner; Mathieu Fourment; Stephen A Forrest; Jennifer Klunk; Verena Schuenemann; Debi Poinar; Melanie Kuch; Brian Golding; Olivier Dutour; Paul Keim; David M Wagner; Edward C Holmes; Johannes Krause; Hendrik N Poinar;

The 14th-18th century pandemic of Yersinia pestis caused devastating disease outbreaks in Europe for almost 400 years. The reasons for plague's persistence and abrupt disappearance in Europe are poorly understood, but could have been due to either the presence of now-extinct plague foci in Europe itself, or successive disease introductions from other locations. Here we present five Y. pestis genomes from one of the last European outbreaks of plague, from 1722 in Marseille, France. The lineage identified has not been found in any extant Y. pestis foci sampled to date, and has its ancestry in strains obtained from victims of the 14th century Black Death. These data suggest the existence of a previously uncharacterized historical plague focus that persisted for at least three centuries. We propose that this disease source may have been responsible for the many resurgences of plague in Europe following the Black Death.

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