Early Divergent Strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago

Simon Rasmussen, Morten Erik Allentoft, Kasper Nielsen, Ludovic Orlando, Martin Sikora, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Anders Gorm Pedersen, Mikkel Schubert, Alex Van Dam, Christian Moliin Outzen Kapel, Henrik Bjørn Nielsen, Søren Brunak, Pavel Avetisyan, Andrey Epimakhov, Mikhail Viktorovich Khalyapin, Artak Gnuni, Aivar Kriiska, Irena Lasak, Mait Metspalu, Vyacheslav MoiseyevAndrei Gromov, Dalia Pokutta, Lehti Saag, Liivi Varul, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, Robert A Foley, Marta Mirazón Lahr, Rasmus Nielsen, Kristian Kristiansen, Eske Willerslev

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    Abstract

    The bacteria Yersinia pestis is the etiological agent of plague and has caused human pandemics with millions of deaths in historic times. How and when it originated remains contentious. Here, we report the oldest direct evidence of Yersinia pestis identified by ancient DNA in human teeth from Asia and Europe dating from 2,800 to 5,000 years ago. By sequencing the genomes, we find that these ancient plague strains are basal to all known Yersinia pestis. We find the origins of the Yersinia pestis lineage to be at least two times older than previous estimates. We also identify a temporal sequence of genetic changes that lead to increased virulence and the emergence of the bubonic plague. Our results show that plague infection was endemic in the human populations of Eurasia at least 3,000 years before any historical recordings of pandemics.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalCELL
    Volume163
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)571-582
    Number of pages12
    ISSN0092-8674
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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