Health

Cause of the Great Plague of London confirmed

Published 12:01 PM ET, Fri September 9, 2016
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An investigation of skeletons buried during the 1665 Great Plague of London has revealed the DNA of the bacteria responsible for the disease. The skeletons were discovered in an ancient burial site during construction of London's Crossrail train line. crossrail
The mass grave was thought to be a "plague pit," discovered by Crossrail when constructing a new station at Liverpool Street in 2015. crossrail
Scientists examined samples from 20 skeletons, looking for for traces of the plague pathogen Yersinia pestis, which they found in five of the individuals, confirming they had been exposed to it before they died. Crossrail
While the bacteria is believed to be the cause of death in these people, it is no longer active, and perished days after the individuals died, 351 years ago. Scientists obtained DNA from teeth, where enamel can sometimes help preserve DNA. crossrail
In 1665, the bacteria was deadly. London's Great Plague decimated the city's population, killing more than 75,0000 people -- almost a quarter of people living in the city at the time. crossrail
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, sequenced the DNA and are now working to sequence the whole genome of the bacteria. crossrail
The team behind this research believe the DNA of these bacteria from hundreds of years ago can help us understand more about plague infections, past and future. crossrail