Home Front Page Deadly plague bacteria millions of years older than first thought

Deadly plague bacteria millions of years older than first thought

The bacteria that causes the plague may have once roamed the Earth with the dinosaurs. A recent discovery suggests that the diseases is far older than originally thought.

Yersinia pestis plague
"Yersinia pestis". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

Do you remember that scene in Jurassic Park where the park staff reveal that the dinosaurs were made from DNA stored in mosquitos frozen in amber? Sounded pretty unreal right? Go figure, scientists recently made a major breakthrough by examining fleas trapped in amber, only they didn’t discover dino DNA but instead an early form of the Yersinia pestis bacteria.

This shocking discovery suggests that the bacteria could be tens of millions of years older than originally thought. By human terms, the plague has been around for a long time, having first been recorded in the Old Testament, and being the scourge of ancient civilizations long before the so-called Black Death swept through Europe. Turns out, the disease could have been around long before humans ever even appeared on the Earth.

The amber was discovered in the Dominican Republic, and the bacteria itself was discovered on the back of the flea. To this day, fleas are believed to be the primary host animal for the said bacteria. The fleas themselves used rats to move from place to place by hitching rides on rats. The bacteria found on the flea has long since died, but the fossils which it left behind appear to match those of the plague.

If true, the bacteria itself is much older than previously thought. It’s not known if the disease would have adversely affected any of the animals alive at the time. Viruses that are deadly to one animal are often harmless in another.

The plague is one of the deadliest diseases in history, having claimed an estimated 20 million lives in Europe alone during the medieval age. The disease also wreaked havoc across much of the rest of the ancient world. The disease still crops up from time to time in the United States, usually out west.