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DNA helps discover the origin of the Black Death

By: Hannah Yang

The origin of the Black Death has been an unanswered question for many centuries. But recently, a group of researchers reports it has found the answer in the pulp of teeth from people buried in the 14th century.

The Black Death started in a pair of cemeteries in the Chüy Valley near Lake Issyk-Kul in modern-day Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic. The bacterium Yersinia pestis(Y. pestis) is responsible for causing the illness caused by The Black Plague’s first recorded case was in China in 224 B.C.E. Its first victims were in small, unimportant areas of traders and slowly spread seven years later to Europe, killing more than half of the population.

The Black Death was named because of the blackened boils on their bodies due to gangrene, a severe condition where a loss of blood supply causes body tissue to die. This disease still exists today, with cases in Africa, Asia, South America, and the western areas of North America. About seven cases of plague happen in the U.S. every year on average.

Researchers went to a cemetery and were ecstatic when they realized the gravestones had been labeled with a precise dates and inscriptions. In old language, Syriac, these inscriptions were written saying that the person had died of the pestilence, which means a fatal epidemic disease, especially bubonic )plague.

The researchers dug up the bodies and examined the DNA in the body’s teeth pulp, suggesting that it had died of the Black Death. It is very interesting knowing that a little bit of a corpse’s teeth pulp can lead to so much information.

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