Plague Likely a Stone Age Arrival to Central Europe
The plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis may have first come to Europe with the large-scale migration of steppe nomads in the Stone Age, millennia before the first known historical epidemics. A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age (4,800 to 3,700 years ago). Analysis of these samples, published in Current Biology, suggests that the Stone Age Plague entered Europe during the Neolithic with a large-scale migration of people from the Eurasian steppe. Plague caused by Y. pestis has been responsible for major historical pandemics, including the infamous Black Death in the 14th century AD. By analyzing ancient forms of the disease, the researchers hope to learn more about the evolution of the plague and how it became more virulent over time. For this study, the team analyzed over 500 tooth and bone samples from Germany, Russia, Hungary, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia and screened them for the presence of Y. pestis. They recovered full Y. pestis genomes from six individuals, greatly increasing the number of Y. pestis genomes available for study over this time period and providing an unprecedented opportunity to study how the disease evolved after its introduction into Europe.