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Evo in the News

Evolution of the plague pandemic

Over the summer, researchers announced that they’d identified the source of a deadly pandemic. This might sound like another story on COVID-19 – but in fact, the research did not focus on bats in China circa 2019, but on tombstones in Kyrgyzstan circa 1340. The Black Death, an outbreak of bubonic plague, killed perhaps as much as 60% of the population of Western Europe and Asia in less than 10 years. Bubonic plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which can spread through flea bites that transmit the microbe from one infected animal to another, as well as directly from person to person. This pandemic pestilence still lurks in rodents and other small animals around the world today, but now we treat the disease with antibiotics and understand its transmission well enough to tamp down outbreaks. However, many questions about the plague’s deadliest epidemic in the Late Middle Ages remain – mysteries to which ancient graves seemed to hold clues…

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