Medieval corpses help construct plague genetic code

An international team of researchers has reconstructed the genetic code of the Black Death using DNA extracted from the teeth of medieval corpses buried in a graveyard in London's East Smithfield. Their research has been published in the science journal Nature.

The scientists believe that the reconstructed germ for Yersinia pestis is the "ancestor of all modern plagues," and that the 14th century outbreak was the first plague pandemic in history. The team also believes that a number of factors brought about the Black Death.

"We are looking at many different factors that affected this pandemic, the virulence of the pathogen, co-circulating pathogens, and the climate which we know was beginning to dip - it got very cold very wet very quickly - this constellation resulted in the ultimate Black Death," said Dr Hendrik Poinar.