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

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>