Yersinia pestis DNA from Skeletal Remains from the 6th Century AD Reveals Insights into Justinianic Plague

Michaela Harbeck, Lisa Seifert, Stephanie Hänsch, David M Wagner, Dawn Birdsell, Katy L. Parise, Ingrid Wiechmann, Gisela Grupe, Astrid Thomas, Paul S Keim, Lothar Zöller, Barbara Bramanti, Julia M. Riehm, Holger C. Scholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

85 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of the disease plague, has been implicated in three historical pandemics. These include the third pandemic of the 19th and 20th centuries, during which plague was spread around the world, and the second pandemic of the 14th-17th centuries, which included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death. Previous studies have confirmed that Y. pestis caused these two more recent pandemics. However, a highly spirited debate still continues as to whether Y. pestis caused the so-called Justinianic Plague of the 6th-8th centuries AD. By analyzing ancient DNA in two independent ancient DNA laboratories, we confirmed unambiguously the presence of Y. pestis DNA in human skeletal remains from an Early Medieval cemetery. In addition, we narrowed the phylogenetic position of the responsible strain down to major branch 0 on the Y. pestis phylogeny, specifically between nodes N03 and N05. Our findings confirm that Y. pestis was responsible for the Justinianic Plague, which should end the controversy regarding the etiology of this pandemic. The first genotype of a Y. pestis strain that caused the Late Antique plague provides important information about the history of the plague bacillus and suggests that the first pandemic also originated in Asia, similar to the other two plague pandemics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1003349
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Volume9
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2013

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Yersinia pestis
Plague
Pandemics
DNA
Cemeteries
Body Remains
Phylogeny
Bacillus
History
Genotype

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Parasitology
  • Virology
  • Immunology
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology

Cite this

Yersinia pestis DNA from Skeletal Remains from the 6th Century AD Reveals Insights into Justinianic Plague. / Harbeck, Michaela; Seifert, Lisa; Hänsch, Stephanie; Wagner, David M; Birdsell, Dawn; Parise, Katy L.; Wiechmann, Ingrid; Grupe, Gisela; Thomas, Astrid; Keim, Paul S; Zöller, Lothar; Bramanti, Barbara; Riehm, Julia M.; Scholz, Holger C.

In: PLoS Pathogens, Vol. 9, No. 5, e1003349, 05.2013.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Harbeck, M, Seifert, L, Hänsch, S, Wagner, DM, Birdsell, D, Parise, KL, Wiechmann, I, Grupe, G, Thomas, A, Keim, PS, Zöller, L, Bramanti, B, Riehm, JM & Scholz, HC 2013, 'Yersinia pestis DNA from Skeletal Remains from the 6th Century AD Reveals Insights into Justinianic Plague', PLoS Pathogens, vol. 9, no. 5, e1003349. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003349
Harbeck, Michaela ; Seifert, Lisa ; Hänsch, Stephanie ; Wagner, David M ; Birdsell, Dawn ; Parise, Katy L. ; Wiechmann, Ingrid ; Grupe, Gisela ; Thomas, Astrid ; Keim, Paul S ; Zöller, Lothar ; Bramanti, Barbara ; Riehm, Julia M. ; Scholz, Holger C. / Yersinia pestis DNA from Skeletal Remains from the 6th Century AD Reveals Insights into Justinianic Plague. In: PLoS Pathogens. 2013 ; Vol. 9, No. 5.
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