Plague Evolution: How a Mild Stomach Bug Became a Worldwide Killer

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Plague Evolution: How a Mild Stomach Bug Became a Worldwide Killer

The Black Death — the dreaded plague that killed millions of people during the Middle Ages — only reached pandemic status after the bacteria that cause it acquired two pivotal mutations, a new study finds.

With the first of those mutations, ancient strains of plague bacteria (Yersinia pestis)gained the ability to cause pneumonic plague — a respiratory form of the disease that spreads easily when people infected with it sneeze around others, researchers found.

Only later did the plague genome acquire the second mutation, which gave it the ability to cause the fast-killing disease known today as bubonic plague, the researchers said in their study, published online today (June 30) in the journal Nature Communications.

 

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