Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

DNA Fingerprinting Traces Global Path of Plague

03.11.2010
An international team of scientists has traced major plague pandemics such as the Black Death back to their roots using DNA fingerprinting analyses.

Researchers from Ireland, China, France, Germany and the United States, including Northern Arizona University’s Paul Keim and David Wagner, have turned back the clock to examine the past 10,000 years of global plague disease events. Their findings regarding the plague pathogen, Yersinia pestis, will be published in an upcoming issue of the international science journal, Nature Genetics.

Keim, director of NAU’s Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics and division director of Translational Genomics Research Institute, said that while the plague is less of a threat to humans than at other periods in history, such as the Middle Ages, the current plague research can be applied to ongoing health threats around the world.

This type of DNA fingerprinting can be used to characterize both natural and nefarious plague outbreaks—which is crucial when a bacterium is used as a biological weapon.

“This work is more of a model for our control of epidemic diseases such as Salmonella, E. coli and influenza,” Keim said. “Plague took advantage of human commercial traffic on a global scale, just as the flu and food-borne diseases do today. Future epidemiologists can learn from this millennium-scale reconstruction of a devastating disease to prevent or control future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Tracking the worldwide spread of plague required identifying mutations in as many strains as possible. But transferring live bacterium across country boundaries is highly regulated and difficult due to its potential danger, presenting a challenge to scientists.

To make this research possible, the team devised an innovative research strategy of decentralized experiments where scientists in worldwide locations worked with one or several of 17 complete plague whole genome sequences. By electronically combining all of the research data, the team identified hundreds of variable sites in the DNA while assembling one of the largest dispersed global collections of plague isolates. That data was used to reconstruct the spread of plague pandemics, calculate the age of different waves of outbreak and was linked to descriptions in the historical record to better explain the current existence of plague.

The results serve as a map of how the plague made its way around the globe.

Their collaborative research determined that the plague pathogen originated in or near China where it has evolved and emerged multiple times to cause global pandemics. The international team also identified unique mutations in country-specific plague lineages.

Tracing its evolution, the plague spread over various historical trade routes as early as the 15th century. Chinese admiral and explorer Zheng He’s travels may have taken the plague to central Africa. The Silk Road, which led from China to Western Asia and on to Europe as described by Marco Polo, also may have served as an avenue for disease. The latest plague pandemic of the late 1800s still persists today in wild rodents throughout the western United States.

“The plague found its way to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century through multiple port cities by infected ship-borne rats,” said Wagner, assistant professor of biological sciences at NAU. “Based upon DNA variation detected from these comparisons, we determined that the original plague strains that infected the U.S. had their origin in Asia and likely made their way to California via Hawaii.”

While plague pandemics are something of the past, the disease has never fully disappeared. The bacterium remains ecologically established in animal populations around the world, and has resurfaced in Africa and Madagascar.

“This study gives one the exciting feeling that we are able to rewind time,” said Elisabeth Carniel, director of the National Reference Laboratory and World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Yersinia at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. “However, this should not lead us to consider plague a disease of the past. We are observing its re-emergence in countries where it has been silent for decades. Therefore, far from being extinct, plague is a re-emerging disease.”

The scientists’ research, “Yersinia pestis genome sequencing identifies patterns of global phylogenic diversity,” is available through advance online publication at the Nature Genetics website.

CONTACTS:

Cindy Brown
NAU Office of Public Affairs
(928) 523-0611
Cindy.Brown@nau.edu
Dr. David Wagner
(928) 523-0686
Dave.Wagner@nau.edu
Dr. Paul Keim
(928) 523-1078
Paul.Keim@nau.edu

Cindy Brown | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.nau.edu

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>