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Medieval plague bacteria strain probably extinct
This flea, X. cheopis, is responsible for transmitting the bacteria strain that causes plague.
August 30th, 2011
05:34 PM ET

Medieval plague bacteria strain probably extinct

Modern  outbreaks – swine flu, bird flu, SARS – have been scary and deadly, but they don't hold a candle to a plague called the Black Death. The disease killed an estimated one-third of Europe's population, perhaps 100 million people.

It's been a while, but scientists are now figuring out what caused the Black Death - at least, the one that swept through Europe from 1347 to 1351. They found evidence of the bacterium Yersinia pestis in the teeth of some of the medieval victims of the plague. Results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers screened more than 100 skeletal remains dating from 1348 to 1350 in the East Smithfield mass burial site, located in London, a place where plague victims were known to be buried.

They found a variation of Yersinia pestis that may no longer exist, as it has never been previously reported, study authors said. That suggests that this did not result from contamination from modern bacteria.

There had been some debate about whether there was some other explanation for the medieval plague, such as a different pathogen or bacterium.

The medieval plague is considered the second of three - the first was the Plague of Justinian in 541 A.D., and the third was noted in the 20th century; that disease represents about 2,000 cases per year, worldwide, on average.

A different form of Yersinia pestis is considered the cause of the plague that still exists today. As in the days of knights and castles, modern outbreaks of plague are associated with infected rats and rat fleas, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, plague cases in humans mostly occur in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Nevada. Internationally, it can be found in Africa, Asia and South America. The plague can still be deadly without proper care, but antibiotics can fight it off.

Given that the World Health Organization has said that plague is a "reemerging infectious disease," further study of the spread of the older version may be worthwhile.


soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. intothefire

    if only u were within arms reach.....id love to beat down a troll

    August 30, 2011 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mnemoch

      Give it a rest. The only thing you beat down is your tiny little tadger.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:11 | Report abuse |
  2. Alexandra

    first off, your jinxing everyone by posting this article. second, some survivors passed DNA immunity to the black death, third, it's Not completly dead even in modern 21st cen US. people can still get it from rats and stuff.

    August 30, 2011 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      Immunity is not per se inherited. The MHC alleles can be largely inherited, but immunity results from a largely random process that occurs during VDJ recombination and somatic hypermutation. Thus, from a genetic standpoint, prodgeny can inherit the ability for T-cell recognition of certain MHC complexes, but it's more complex than simply stating that one can inherit immunity to a certain pathogen.

      August 31, 2011 at 01:11 | Report abuse |
    • Russell Roberts

      Alexandra, people who believe in jinxes or that claptrap are instantly less credible. Your following sentences are no more than opinion, unless you can back that up with cited references, besides spinning something up in your mind. Science, it's not just for breakfast anymore!

      August 31, 2011 at 02:09 | Report abuse |
    • phange

      Jason, you're incorrect about immunity from plague and inheritance. Specifically, immunity from Yersinia pestis is mediated by the fact that it's an intracellular parasite – you can't get the plague unless it's able to be endocytosed by the host cell. Yersinia pestis accomplishes this by binding to a cell receptor and tricking the cell into thinking it's something else (instead of a bacterium). Scientists have found that after a large percent of Europe died from the Black Plague, most survivors had a mutation known as Delta 32, which mutated the specific receptor that Yersinia pestis uses to enter the cell. Amazingly, not only does this mutation make you completely immune to the plague, it also makes you immune to most forms of HIV (which binds to the same receptor)

      August 31, 2011 at 09:38 | Report abuse |
    • Joel

      A couple of disagreements with you phange... Y pestis is not a parasite, but rather a bacterium (unless you meant parasite in the more general, non-microbiologic sense). Also, the underexpression of co-receptors that confers resistance/immunity to HIV (CCR5 and CXCR4) is mediated by the varient CCR5-delta32; however, in vitro studies have shown that yersinia pestis does NOT associate with the CCR5 receptor. Therefore, underexpression of OR expression of an abnormal form of this receptor would have no impact on a patient's immunity to plague. Furthermore, studies have shown that areas of the highest endemic resistance to HIV-1 were also areas that had higher mortality during the plague. Finally, the initial hypothesis that CCR5-delta32 expression conferred immunity was based on the fact that this varient seemed to have higher expression in current northern europeans than it did at the time of the plague. However, subsequent research into tissue samples that pre-date the plagues by centuries have demonstrated a more equivalent distribution of this receptor then than previously thought. Nevertheless, I do agree with you that while the "traditional forms of immunity" (i.e. immunoglobulins) are not passed through heredity, immunities to certain conditions can be passed through genetics.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:15 | Report abuse |
    • umad

      jinxing? Really? What are you 12?

      August 31, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
    • phange

      Joel, just a quick response – I said intracellular parasite, which is a nonspecific descriptor of an organism that reproduces inside of a cell. This can either be prokaryotic or eukaryotic. Yes, i know Y. pestis is a bacteria (my undergraduate degree is in Microbiology, so needless to say this is an area of significant interest to me).

      August 31, 2011 at 11:00 | Report abuse |
    • Enrique

      @phange Yersinia pestis is an extracellular bacterium. It can survive and actually replicates outside because has a virulence plasmid that encodes for Type Three Secretion System (T3SS). Y. pestis can prevent phagocytosis by translocating effector proteins called Yops that affect mostly cytoskeleton, reactive oxigen species (ROS) production, etc. Mutants of the T3SS are avirulent and are easily phagocytosed by immune cells and killed.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse |
    • John

      You didn't read the article, the plague around today is different from the strain the wrecked Europe.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Jason, phange, joel, enrique – you guys, do I get college credit for reading your posts?

      August 31, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • hhutchins

      This comment thread is awesome.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
    • John

      Wow... informative and principled disagreement and discussion that doesn't devolve into name calling and political attacks. Great post thread.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
    • Jack The Tripper

      BLAME BUSH!!

      Just kidding. It is refreshing to see an intelligent conversation once in a while on these threads.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
    • Another Andy

      Isn't it about time for someone to reply to this blaming Obama for it?

      August 31, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
    • Menos

      Bush is responsible for two of the three major plagues that decimated Europe! It was his fleas that started the whole nightmare (source: WikiLeak memo from Sec. Clinton to Anderson Cooper 07152011)

      Now we have a proper CNN post. All of this inappropriate civility and intelligent discourse is creeping me out.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      Well, Alexandra is not totally incorrect in her statements. I believe, it is just a matter of interpereting her language. "Jinx" for instance possesses a magical connotation, at first, however; when we think of it as a term to describe the panic that ensues from irresponsible statements and reports via the press, then "jinx" could refer to an imposition of opinion upon the weaker minds of the general public, who do not have the capability to provide cognitive reasoning based upon adequate factual data. Of course, from Linnaeus' experiments, we absolutely know that a morphological change in one generation cannot be passed to the next, however, the pre-existing genetic order of one organism that enables a resistance to an infection, definately, will be passed to the next. So no, the response isn't inherited, but yes, absolutely, the original DNA structure is. And ergo, so is the "immunity". Last point, she is correct again, bubonic plague still exists as the original version of the black death, it's simply that we have a way to fight it that makes it a travesty for a society to allow people to die from it. Something like passing flu infected blankets from British to Native Americans. So, perhaps you two "gentlemen" would be a little more polite in your repertoir avec la belle femme Alexandra!

      August 31, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      As everyone has already mentioned, it's an infectious disease, not a jinx. Talking about bacteria cannot change its behavior, however, talking can help us change our behavior to the extent that we can avoid exposure or seek treatment -and thereby prevent an epidemic. Knowledge is good, it cannot jinx anything. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. Choose to do good with it.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse |
    • Yakobi.

      First off, it's "you're jinxing", not "your jinxing".

      August 31, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
    • Really??

      Great thread, btw! Very informative! Thor is right, though. Alexandra makes an excellent point in all parts of her post. I think, however, she might have been better off not using such colloquial terminology.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
    • TainoMD

      Very true, actually the survivors of the Plague besides transmitting their resistance to the decease to their descendants also transmitted a very important feature as well...it is proven that people who's ancestors survived the black plague also are immune to the HIV virus (it dies in their blood stream) cool huh?

      August 31, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Did you read the article? The specific form that was so devastating the 3 great plague pandemics seems to be extinct. The plague still exists but not that specific strain as far as they can tell.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:55 | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      Yes we did. Perhaps you might consider the passage: "They found a variation of Yersinia pestis that may no longer exist, as it has never been previously reported, study authors said." The word "...may..." implies a possibility, not and absolute.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      "an absolute" vice and absolute. Sorry.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      It's fun to compare this intelligent and respectful conversation with the comments from some "other" cable news channel's website on the same story.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
    • JS

      Keith, keep reading the comments below. The conversation gets a whole lot less intelligent and respectful from here! CNN has it's share of morons and zealots just like everone else does.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:40 | Report abuse |
    • keepItReal

      Thank you all for the imformation! I love the fact of no troll comments!

      August 31, 2011 at 14:13 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      "Rats" do not carry plague, what a ridiculous comment. Rats are usually much cleaner than the average person you pass in the street.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Joe, you are right, every medical professional, biologist and epidemiologist on the planet is wrong.
      The CDC is wrong.
      Yet, THEY ALL make far more money than you. Why do you think that is?
      Go to the CDC website and read about it.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
    • lrltree

      I feel smarter just reading this thread. Nice to know people whose vocabulary doesn't consist of just emoticons, abbreviations and slang read and respond to these stories. And even though I don't have a degree in microbiology or any of the medical sciences, it was a great read as I am interested in 'things I cannot see' and that which effects my health. Thanks for that you all.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • Troy

      "BLAME BUSH"

      Now, now, don't go blaming bush. Sure, it's easy to think bush is responsible, but if her bush is infested with plague-bearing fleas, you really should blame her hygiene instead.

      August 31, 2011 at 15:26 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Yea, because they posted this I just caught a cold. Evil CNN ..... eeeeeevil. Seriously, this is all fear mongering being developed by the CDC and HHS to get funding to be accelerated for things that are theoretical. The development of a pandemic is not an inevitable it is theoretical and we need to call out the media on cases like this where they are just helping add fuel to the fire.

      August 31, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Just thought of a pandemic positive ... More beer for the survivors ..... which I plan to be. Sorry suckers ...... muhahahahaha

      August 31, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
    • Reason & Logic

      Shouldn't all you microbiologists be doing something important like saving the world instead of posting to some insignificant mews medium such as CNN?

      August 31, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Reason & Logic

      Shouldn't all you microbiologists be doing something important like saving the world instead of posting to some insignificant news medium such as CNN?

      August 31, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Eliavaa

      Well the theory of multiple strains of Y. pestis causing the black death has been tossed around for years. Mostly pestis people like myself, we just nod courteously at their abstracts and keep walking. The whole 'bacteria DNA from teeth' experiment has been fraught with issues from the beginning for every bacteria that has been isolated from that microchasm. I'll just put one more ticmark on that side of the tally. Well, maybe only a partial tic.

      August 31, 2011 at 20:41 | Report abuse |
  3. nancy

    thanks Mark for the hearty laugh tonight. I feel the same way!

    August 31, 2011 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. lexrn

    I totally agree with you, Mark. And they continue to infect (and procreate).

    August 31, 2011 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. paganguy

    You can also list Lyndon B Johnson, Ronald Reagan, crossdresser Hoover, Rumsfeld and a bunch more.

    August 31, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mickey1313

    This story is a total lie. There are mice and prariedogs that carry boubonic pleague in Colorado.

    August 31, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom Hartman

      Read slower: "A different form of Yersinia pestis is considered the cause of the plague that still exists today. "

      August 31, 2011 at 01:42 | Report abuse |
    • ugh

      +1

      August 31, 2011 at 08:12 | Report abuse |
    • ugh

      Well, crap, that +1 was meant to be a reply to the dude reminding the reader: "A different form of Yersinia pestis is considered the cause of the plague that still exists today."

      August 31, 2011 at 08:13 | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      @mickey1313, read the story. They address that. The plague that happens now is a different strain, NOT the medieval plague. This has also been addressed by other commenters.

      "The medieval plague is considered the second of three – the first was the Plague of Justinian in 541 A.D., and the third was noted in the 20th century; that disease represents about 2,000 cases per year, worldwide, on average.

      A different form of Yersinia pestis is considered the cause of the plague that still exists today."

      August 31, 2011 at 02:12 | Report abuse |
    • codifex

      Right, while the strain of today is not the one from the Middle Ages, it is still dangerous. Now that they are treating it with antibiotics, it will probably mutate into an even more dangerous strain.

      August 31, 2011 at 02:50 | Report abuse |
    • Breck McKean

      Mickey – the article states the particular species that caused the plague in the Dark Ages is likely extinct, and it also states that the plague still shows up, but from a different, but closely related species of bacteria.

      August 31, 2011 at 09:44 | Report abuse |
    • Breck McKean

      "In the United States, plague cases in humans mostly occur in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Nevada. Internationally, it can be found in Africa, Asia and South America. The plague can still be deadly without proper care, but antibiotics can fight it off." – Second to last paragraph

      August 31, 2011 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
    • phange

      Why don't you google the definition of "strain"

      August 31, 2011 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Did you even bother to read the article? The researchers claim the Black Death plague from 1347-1351 is caused by a different strain of the bacteria than the modern bubonic plague. If you want to claim "total lie" you need to show the modern and historic strains of bacteria are the same. Bubonic plague carried by modern poplulations of rodents remains consistent with the researchers' claims.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:08 | Report abuse |
    • Heid Theba

      That's true, but the point of the story (if you'd bothered to read it) is that the form of Yersinia pestis found today is different to the one that killed all the Europeans back in the 14th century (get it now?) – back then one form, today a different form...... hello, anyone home? the lights are on, are you there?

      August 31, 2011 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
    • Just Some Dude

      epic fail at reading comprehension.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:47 | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      The article did NOT say that the bubonic plague was gone. The article is saying that the specific *strain* that caused the disease in the middle ages is likely extinct. Bacteria can have have different varieties. Think about it like the flu – everyone knows there are different strains of the flu. They are all caused by a single type of virus but this virus has multiple flavors. The flavor of the plague bacteria that caused the Black Death seems to be gone. That's what this article is about.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
  7. Don H

    So why make an article about it I heard on another news channel that another form of sars has been detected somewhere and this story comes out. Why the lies man, why the lies im sick of it we all going to die that is why that movie Contagion is coming out in September they are doing it on purpose its called wiping out the weak so the rich will survive and start all over again!

    August 31, 2011 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • silvershado

      The wealthy give time, effort and money to those less fortunate. Studies also show they work the heaviest schedules: #l attorneys, #2 physicians and #3 business owners.

      Your comment demonstrates a selfish, spiteful mindset.

      August 31, 2011 at 01:46 | Report abuse |
    • Mnemoch

      "That's it, man! Game over, man, game over! What're we gonna do???"
      Well little mouse, give up and wait for your demise. Some of us would prefer to learn, adapt, and survive.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:10 | Report abuse |
    • David

      Mnemoch: perfectly said.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:43 | Report abuse |
    • Juan

      You must be a socialist, you are a bum, and all you do is feel sorry for yourself and wish the politics of the USA would enable you to move it to the homes and drive the cars that the rich built for themselves, such as it happened when the nazis took what belonged to the jews of Germany, like Churchill said, socialism is the creed of the envious....instead of beleiving such lies, (Bill Gates has given millions upon millions of his own money to fight AIDS in Africa, and he is a white man) go out and make a life for your lazy self and WORK STUPID !

      August 31, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      silvershado:

      Your analysis is flawed. The rich are not rich because they work hard. They are rich because they are lucky - they were able to go to prestigious universities and make good connections. Some are self-made. Many of them did so on the backs of other people, but there are some decent rich people.

      But you think the rich work harder because you neglect some obvious factors:

      1) The rich can (and often do) skip time-intensive chores. They can hire maid services to clean their houses. They can go out to dinner. They can hire tutors for their children instead of struggling to help them with their homework themselves. They can write up their resume' at home instead of walking to the public library where there is a computer and waiting until it is free.

      2) Working at a career is generally EASIER than working a job to make ends meet. Most attorneys, doctors, and business owners work at their job BECAUSE they want that job more than any other, perhaps more than free time. As a teacher I work 60 hours a week. It is a hard, long job, and I am NOT rich. But it is a career I love.

      Aside from that, the problem is this: nobody NEEDS $250,000 to live on. They could manage with half that. At the same time, there are families struggling to find enough for two of three - food, medicine, rent. Forget paying for all three!

      August 31, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
    • Really??

      Edwin,

      Your logic is flawed.

      1. There are people (not all) but many that live off the welfare system and already live the kind of lives that you describe the rich living. The only difference is that the rich actually have the money to rectify their flaws.

      2. Most people don't live on $250,000 a year. That benchmark applies to corporations and not private households. Corporations produce jobs and therefore consumers and are at the heart of our economy. If you cripple the heart, then everything else falls apart. No one has jobs, money is not being spent, so more people lose their jobs and more money does not get spent. The economy is a cycle that is dependent on every part. If you cripple any part of the cycle, then you cripple the whole thing.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:47 | Report abuse |
    • Crm

      you are correct Don...we are all going to die. Eventually.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
    • Sencho

      Spare me the song and dance about attorneys working so hard. I work with them all day long and can assure you that the support staff is doing the majority of their work for them.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Don, kindly seek professional mental health guidance, you are delusional.
      Scientists study diseases, even ones that are ancient.
      The 1918 influenza virus was gene mapped nearly a decade ago. No new pandemic from that virus, but we know know WHY the virus was so severe and highly lethal, so we can look for newly mutated strains that might infect us in the future and do everything possible to halt a pandemic before it starts.
      The same is true of THIS bacteria.

      Meanwhile, your logic, such as it is, is deeply flawed. Consider this: "The rich" kill off all of the poor people, who works for them then? Their business has no clients or workers! Brilliant logic!

      August 31, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
  8. matt houston

    Amen to that dude. It's not the fact that they are Republicans...it's the fact that none of them actually believe in Christian Values yet they all wear it on their shoulders like some medal. If they did believe in Christian Values (which I am not a Christian), they would all be worried about the possibility of Global Warming/Climate Change, pollution, wars, injustice etc...I mean everything that the Bible says to defend against. Humans are the wardens and guardians of God's creation...or did they also selectively delete that one from their "Christianity".

    So yes, these people ARE a plague to not only America, Christendom...but to the world. They are just as bad as the Jihadists. Perhaps even worse with the power they hold to decimate nature in addition to human life.

    August 31, 2011 at 00:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Fred S.

    How about investigating next the DNA sequence of whatever germ was used in 1951 by the US Navy to kill off 500,000 Chinese soldiers during the Korean War. Truman fired Gen. MacArthur for refusing to go along with what he considered a war crime.

    August 31, 2011 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SilentBoy741

      I believe that was lead poisoning - .50 caliber doses.

      August 31, 2011 at 02:26 | Report abuse |
    • Juan

      Where the hell did you come up with that crazy lie from? And if it is true, then let's use it again, and start making products in the USA again, want to see MADE IN THE USA

      August 31, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      OK, Fred, here is the sequence: LEAD AND STEEL.

      That said, BOTH sides DID contract hantavirus during the summer. Yet another gift from rodents.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:45 | Report abuse |
  10. SilentBoy741

    Are we talking "coelacanth" extinct, or "Pauly Shore's career" extinct?

    August 31, 2011 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jesus H Christ, esq

      BEST.COMMENT.EVER.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
    • RedinAustin

      I'll go with the coelacanth, mainly because I'd rather see the plague come back than Pauly Shore.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:50 | Report abuse |
  11. Roger Ogilivy Thornhill

    Extinct? I didn't even know it was on the endangered species list!

    August 31, 2011 at 02:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Edwin

      Bacteria do not fit on the Endangered Species list. If I am not mistaken, bacteria do not fit nicely into species categories at all, because they are able to share plasmids of genetic material with wildly different strains.

      Many eukaryotes do not make the list, either - it is generally reserved for multi-cellular organisms (though I could be wrong).

      August 31, 2011 at 12:34 | Report abuse |
  12. jayman419

    "Medieval plague bacteria strain probably extinct" sounds like famous last words. I bet during the 800 years after the Justinian plague they thought it was gone for good, too.

    If the planet is a macro-organism, then we are the virus. It's immune system is gathering strength to deal with our numbers.

    August 31, 2011 at 02:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      I like to think of us as skin cancer.

      August 31, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse |
    • Plague Historian

      It says in the article that one strain is thought to be extinct. There's at least 3 strains that we know of. I'm just curious which one it is that they believe extinct.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:08 | Report abuse |
    • Kerr Mudgeon

      Some very thoughtful posts here, but this is the first hint of what I think is the 'grand daddy' of all our problems – how the human species has overpopulated the Earth. I keep hoping that mad scientist, Mother Nature, will take things in hand and wipe out the majority of our species, due to reach an unsustainable 7 billion in number by this October. Hurry up, Ebola & Plague! Where are you, SAR and Influenza when we need you? Please help us all out by asking what the root cause is to every issue: Too Many Of Us! And then lobby for licensing the right to reproduce (improve the gene pool, thin the herd). I realize that's only a fantasy in this crazy religion driven world, but one can wish!

      August 31, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Kerr:

      The maximum sustainable threshold for human life on this planet has changed over the last 1000 years. Typically, we reach peak capacity (or a little over), then have a few wars, then develop techniques or technology to increase the capacity.

      About 75,000 years ago, for example (I could be off by +/- 25,000 years or more...) we discovered the concept of agriculture. It increased the capacity DRAMATICALLY. In the middle ages, agricultural changes improved food production substantially. The invention of processes to pull nitrogen from the atmosphere a century ago (+/-) again transformed the production of the planet.

      We are at another cusp, clearly, but there is likely another breakthrough waiting ahead. Whether it comes before or after a period of major warfare is, of course, a valid question.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:41 | Report abuse |
    • jeffc

      @Kerr Mudgeon
      I assume you're volunteering to be first in line to step into the disintregration chamber?

      August 31, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • Jerry S Jones, Jr

      Ever think that maybe the Earth is like a tree and we (intelligent, self-aware species) are the fruit? Like, maybe the earth is a giant ovary and we are the eggs? As in, maybe instead of a disease, plague, or something unnatural, the entire purpose of a planetary system is to produce intelligent life? The "reset" button was the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Earth got it right during "take 2".

      This is what the Gaea-worshipping eco-drones don't understand. The purpose of nature might be to produce US.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:56 | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Jerry:

      ... or not. Maybe the purpose is to produce intelligent life forms. If so, why are we apparently stuck on the planet, with no real hope of leaving the solar system? When the sun eventually burns out, everything we have ever done (with the exception of a few small satellites and a smattering of radio wave signals) will be gone.

      Maybe the purpose was simply to create biodiversity - as wide a range of life forms as possible. Or maybe life itself is an accident, a sort of messy fungus that occasionally infects otherwise beautiful rock planets. Trying to imagine the ultimate "purpose" is pointless.

      We consider ourselves to be intelligent and self-aware life forms. Maybe, though, the purpose of life on earth is to create the NEXT species - the one beyond us. It would be more intelligent or enlightened or whatever, so much so that it would look at humans like we look at dogs, or maybe even rose bushes. Maybe we are not the end of the line, but merely a blip along the way.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse |
    • Jerry S Jones, Jr

      @Edwin the technological problems that prevent us from leaving the solar system will be overcome in a few hundred or maybe few thousand years. The sun's good to go for another few billion.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
    • Lin

      I'm just hoping that in a few years someone doesn't say, "It was extinct until we dug it up and started messing around with it...oops, sorry."

      August 31, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      You're right! Why, the intelligent planet is hiding a bacteria from scientists who spend their entire lives look at and for.
      Yep! That's the ticket!
      It's extinct. It was excessively lethal and it ran out of hosts, humans weren't the primary host, rats were. When the rats died, the fleas starved and the bacteria died with them.

      Lin, having the genome isn't having the living bacteria. They've been under ground for centuries and are QUITE dead.
      And there isn't a scientist that COULD re-create that genome in a bacteria that WOULD do it. Beside the fact that it's illegal, it's also prohibitively expensive and wouldn't spread now as it did then.
      Back then, rats were common in people's homes, they are eradicated now in homes BECAUSE we learned of the diseases that they are vectors for.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse |
    • Kerr Mudgeon

      @jeffc: I only have about 25 more years to go, and death doesn't scare me, so get that chamber warmed up. In all seriousness, I did my part – zero population growth by being childless by choice. I think that my species sux in general – hence being a curmudgeon in the company of great ones such as George Carlin. With so many ill-informed surrounding me, having the lights go out wouldn't bother me much.... especially if a bunch of other human beings go with me and the environment is left to recover from our pollution, deforestation and general misuse of the planet's resources....

      August 31, 2011 at 15:32 | Report abuse |
  13. Anthony

    I dont think that any diseases are ever completely dead, they have the ability to reemerge in different forms and if not caught quickly and treated can cause devastation.

    August 31, 2011 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Hey You

    Uh oh -- A strain of Y pestis is nearly extinct? I hope our government doesn't hear about this – we will put it on the endangered species list and spend billions to preserve it. If that costs a few human lives, then so be it – the bacteria were here first and have more right to the planet.

    August 31, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ShowerGarden

      Please never breed.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
    • Hey You

      Too late.
      Also – I WAS JOKING!

      Just a bit of sacrasm in the morning – apparently someone did not have their coffee yet.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:00 | Report abuse |
  15. Gary

    We're missing the crux of this article, folks. Once again humans have pushed another species to the brink and over the brink of extinction.

    Couldn't we have saved some and just let them give the disease to a few already sick people?

    First dinosaurs, then the Puerto Rico Flower Bat and now this! Oh, the humanity!

    August 31, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Sternberg

    It came from a rodent in Mongolia, that the Mongols considered a delicasy. It's affects did not spread among nomads as rapidly as it did among the urban populations that the mongols infected when Ghengis began his conguests.
    The bacteria was reportedly found alive among those animals just few years ago.

    August 31, 2011 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wzrd1

      If you read the article, you'd know that THAT variety is extinct. There are a handful of other strains of y. pestis.
      The disease is global, but not of significant impact in nations where health care is readily available and hygienic standards are high.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
  17. Rob

    Wasn't this whole thing covered on an episode of NCIS 5 years ago? How can it be news NOW?

    August 31, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Heid Theba

    Don't you have a "Clan" rally to attend or something?

    August 31, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. BobZemko

    Now if we can only make right-wing conservatives extinct.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pilfer

      They could poison the inks used in print p0rnography..

      Liberals get their p0rn off the internet.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:08 | Report abuse |
  20. palintwit

    That photo at the top of the page reminds one of Bristol Palin when she was on DWTS. Doesn't it ?

    August 31, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Lookat Yourself

    And what's YOUR excuse?!

    August 31, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. MarylandBill

    I always find it amusing that the Black Death gets all the press, and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, despite being far more recent gets ignored. Sars, Influenza, or something we don't even know about could bring about a Pandemic that in total numbers will dwarf any previous pandemic (for the simple reason that there are far, far more people now).

    August 31, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Plague Historian

      I think this is largely due to the amount of coverage each of these diseases received in their own times. To be fair, the 1300s black plague is estimated to have killed up to 60% of the European population during a period of about 2 years. It changed the shape of writing, art, economics and society in general. It was understandably greatly feared and well recorded. The effects of it have been passed on even to today.

      The 1918 influenza outbreak, though arguably equally as devastating (killed 3% of the world's population, around 50 million people), was played down by the media in most countries. The first world war was in full force at the time. Most countries, especially the U.S., tried their best to keep news of the sickness to a minimum. Newspaper in the U.S. were expected to make light of the deaths by disease and report news from the warfront. The news was systematically repressed nearly everywhere. Spain was one of the few countries that reported the full effects of the devastating disease, which is why it was nicknamed Spanish Influenza, even though all evidence points to this strain originating in the United States.

      Even though we have a lot of information on the 1918 influenza strain now, there was very little coverage of it at the time. I think that surpresses the full horror of what was happening. With all that we look back in horror at it, it wasn't the force for changing the world that the Black Plague once was.

      We have some horrifying diseases floating around today, but how much do we really hear about them? Our news reporting has changed. And generally if it's not directly affecting us, and it's not over the top horrifying, we don't hear much about it.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Historian, not completely correct. The current theory is that it came out of the British Army's abattoir, where ducks and geese were penned in and had wild birds mingling with them. Said abattoir holding pens were next to the pens for the swine.
      The genetic analysis indicates that the virus had infected the birds first, which is far from unusual, then infected the swine.
      Once it made that jump, the jump to humans was trivial.
      The genome was mapped for the 1918 influenza virus, taken from tissue samples stored from the pandemic. As I recall, it's now online.
      And folks, one can't assemble a virus from scratch easily, so there is no real risk from that.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
    • Plague Historian

      We've known for years that it was passed from bird to swine to human. That's actually what made this particular strain so deadly.

      However, the first recorded case of this flu in humans was in Haskell County, Kansas. That was the basis for my statement above. The bird strain may indeed have originated in Britain, as the first outbreaks recorded were on the base at Fort Riley. And, truth be told, there may have been prior cases elsewhere. Unfortunately none were recorded prior to January, 1918 in Kansas.

      However, we are completely agreed on the any-fool-in-a-lab-can-bring-back-a-deadly-virus front. Scientist have been trying to recreate the 1918 flu virus for years. They even tried to intentionally infect people (prisoners promised their freedom) IN 1918, and have been largely unsuccessful. For a small group of people in a secret (or government funded) lab to bring back an inactive strain of bubonic plague, I'd be pretty skeptical.

      The real danger is taking a current killer virus and altering it to become a more deadly strain. I should think this would be quite a bit easier, and much more practical.

      August 31, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse |
    • Plague Historian

      I should clarify that even though the bird-swine-human theory has been generally accepted for years, there are a number of other theories on the origins of the virus and how it was passed on to humans. We may find that one of the others is actually the source of the virus one day.

      It's also been speculated that the virus passed from bird to swine and back more than once, which mutated it to a more deadly version. But again, something that may never be fully exonerated.

      (Also, I do realize scientists have announced the genetic sequence on the 1918 H1N1, but my statement referred to nearly a century of unsuccessful attempts to recreate it and innoculate against it.)

      August 31, 2011 at 15:06 | Report abuse |
  23. DoubleA

    The thing that bothers me most about reading this: They opened graves from the 1300’s to take a look at the teeth of Black Death victims. They know that it was a different strain of Yersinia pestis that still causes plague cases today. “The WHO (World Health Organization) has said that plague is a "reemerging infectious disease," further study of the spread of the older version may be worthwhile.”

    I see folks in hazmat suits in a lab, on a small island, off the coast of MD bringing this dead disease back to life and having it accidently released via a rat he\\ bent on getting out.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DoubleA

      …then zombies… EVERYWHERE!

      August 31, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse |
    • Hey You

      The island is off the coast of Long Island in NY – Plum Island.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      That's not how science works. The plague bacteria in these graves are long dead. They do not, in any way, go dormant or hibernate or survive for 300-800 years in plague pit conditions. So they cannot unwittingly unleash the Black Death again. They also have no way of reconstructing this variety of the plague – you can't just pop a gene sequence into some machine and have it spit out a bacteria on the other end.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      They also have the full genome for the 1918 influenza virus. Doesn't mean that anyone's trying to reconstruct it.
      With the genome, they learn what made the organism so lethal. They can then examine new varieties of those pathogens to see if THEY have the potential to become a highly lethal pandemic. If so, they can get to work on a vaccine and take other measures to try to slow the spread.
      How EVIL of them, huh?
      You're SO scared of the black death, huh? Your house is infested with rats?

      August 31, 2011 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
  24. Ron Paul

    RON PAUL is the People's Choice in 2012! Join the rEVOLution!

    August 31, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jack The Tripper

      I wish the plague on you.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      The plague of stupidity is most certainly at epidemic levels already.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
  25. Chris

    "Modern outbreaks – swine flu, bird flu, SARS – were sensationalized by the media to scare the public and get page hits, but in actuality they were generally less of a threat than the normal versions of these illnesses."

    Fixed that for you CNN.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris R

      Was there a media frenzy about some of these? Yes. Were they also serious concerns? Yes. Let's put it this way – multiple people I knew who were working on the disease modeling of the avian flu started stockpiling food and water. There was a significant possibility that the avian flu could have become far more infectious and been a serious killer. The fact that it didn't was in part due to luck and in part due to remorseless culling of possibly infected flocks. It still might jump and if it does it will require a lot of effort to keep it from becoming a widespread killer.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:06 | Report abuse |
  26. Juan

    Is it true that some descendants of the survivors of the black plague are immune to the HIV virus and can not get AIDS ?

    August 31, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wzrd1

      That is the current theory. If an individual has only one copy of the mutated gene, they become infected far slower. It an individual has both copies of the mutated gene, they ARE immune.
      Such people are extremely rare though.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
  27. Plague Historian

    So which Y. pestis is extinct? Orientalis or Medievalis? I like that they didn't tell us which one was out of commission.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Medival Plague Victim

    Cough, cough,..... sniff, cough...... were back!

    August 31, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. j.b.

    please explain the proven fact of evolution....because if im correct all of it is speculation.....neither is proven

    August 31, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Edwin

      j.b.: you post is a little hard for me to understand, but I *think* you are claiming that evolution is unproven.

      You are technically correct. The theory of gravity is also unproven. It is also unproven that all matter consists of molecules, or that the world is actually real and not an illusion.

      In science, we call something a theory when it is exceptionally good at explaining known and testable evidence. Darwin's theory of evolution explain a LOT about species. It is not fully correct - as with all science, it has changed over the decades to account for new information. Genetic drift is much more complex than Darwin suggested (survival of the fittest), but the fact that genetic drift accounts for speciation is no longer disputed, any more than the "theory" of gravity is disputed.

      If you have a substantial, fact-based counter theory that explains speciation as well and in as much detail as evolution (the updated form), then please inform us.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse |
    • jeffc

      Unless I just missed it, your use of the word "evolution" is the first I've seen on this page.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      A theory is, in simple terms, a framework used to explain observable and testable phenomenon. Laws, facts, and so forth all fit into that framework. So Newton's Laws of Gravity are *part* of the Theory of Gravity. Look at it this way – Laws tell us *what* is happening. Theories tell us *why* it is happening. If we go back to the gravity example you'd notice that Newton's Law of Gravity (Fg = GMm/d^2) tells us the force of attraction between two masses. What it does not do, in any way, is tell us why this force exists in the first place. The theory of gravity is what tells us why this force exists and how it acts instantaneously regardless of the distance due to the curvature of space and time (which has since been verified). So a 'Law' tells us what and a 'Theory' tells us why. Remember this and a lot of science terminology will make a lot more sense.

      By the way – an educated guess or even an unsupported supposition is called a hypothesis. For example you might hypothesize that the moon is made of cheese. You can then test that hypothesis by, perhaps, going to the moon. Once there you'd find out that it is not made of cheese. You can then hypothesize that it is actually made of dirt and rocks, much like the earth. As you make a test more hypotheses you will bind these together to create a theory – perhaps that the moon was formed in a collision between the earth and another body and the debris fro that formed the moon. A theory will have a large number of supporting facts (like the moon is made of dirt and rocks, it is in orbit around the earth, it has a certain size and weight, etc). If any of those facts end up *not* supporting the theory (like finding a large 'made in china' stamp on the moon) then the theory is disproven and you need to modify your existing theory to account for it (for example, you'd now say 'the moon was made by the Chinese').

      So the 'theory of evolution' is supported by a large number of facts. These facts have guided the development of the theory and made it stronger. The facts and various laws of interaction tell us what happens in evolution while the theory tells us why it is happening.

      Is this a little more clear now?

      August 31, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • Kerr Mudgeon

      Very detailed explanation in Richard Dawkins best seller 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. Please do read – and also understand the way 'theory' is used in regards to scientific analysis. Like most 'Intelligent Design' idiots this argument is ill advised and misunderstood.

      August 31, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  30. Chapman

    Didier Raoult did this in 2000, so Mr. Gupta you are 11 years late to the party. Your whole section on CNN needs to be removed, it is completely useless. People who cant do, usually teach. Please go teach.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wzrd1

      That's not QUITE correct.
      Those that can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can do neither, manage.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      You have this wrong. Didier helped prove that Y. Pestis was the causative agent of the plague. He did not, in any way, show that the variety of Y. Pestis (sub clade) that caused the Black Death was probably extinct. That is what this article is about.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
  31. I had the plague

    chicken soup will cure anything

    August 31, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Chris

    This is old news...they taught us this in school(im 23). They said that the fleas were on the rats and the rats lived around people so...

    August 31, 2011 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris R

      Please go read the article again.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
  33. SamuraiCowboy

    "In the United States, plague cases in humans mostly occur in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, ..... and Nevada."

    Thses are states that have high popluations of dirty disease ridden Mexicans.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wzrd1

      Interesting lie. I happen to follow the epidemiology of y. pestis in the US. Mexicans being infected is quite low.
      Indeed, the data is online for all to read at the CDC website.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
  34. Steve Bowen

    I actualy like the usage of the word "Yucky" in this article. It brings out some character.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Aeromechanic.

    A million bucks says that the only reason they're concerned with finding out what the Medievel plauge was is so it can be weaponized.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Marc

    Stories like this make me wonder if CNN bothers to cross check anything. Google Yersinia pestis and black tailed prairie dog. You'll get a million hits.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris R

      Why are people commenting without reading or understanding the article?

      August 31, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse |
  37. KarenM

    My father died in May of 2005 at the age of 69 due to an infection with the Yersinia pestis.
    Had it been caught in time, he probably would have lived. Two major surgeries were performed to clear his body of the organs that were being made to mush by the disease progression. Paralysis, colostomies,ventilators, coma's-it was a very long 6 weeks for him.
    By the way, he lived just north of Green Bay WISCONSIN.

    August 31, 2011 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Edwin

      I am very sorry for your loss. It is a rare form of infection - but that does not change your loss in any way.

      My brother died unexpectedly last week (but not related to this bacteria). I do not know if it would have been better, or worse, to have the 6 weeks you had. Either way, I sympathize with your loss.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
  38. R.D.

    For a bacteria the little guy is kind of cute. Reminds me of my dog, Sherman.

    August 31, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mb2010a

      That's a flea...not the bacteria.

      August 31, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
  39. tracie

    I caught the plague once, from eating bad doo doo.

    August 31, 2011 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Cali Citizen

    DON'T tell the California environmentalists about this. They'd put it on the endangered species list, and spend millions of dollars protecting them.

    August 31, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. MedicalMayhem

    diseases are always around... it may be extinct or perhaps its only close... However close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. This is why there's new cases of diseases we stopped vaccinating kids for because we thought it was safe. (Whooping cough anyone?) Never let your guard down.

    August 31, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. mb2010a

    Why was this plague found in their teeth? Were they eating the rats or what?

    August 31, 2011 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Pappie

    How can it be extinct when 13 new cases where reported in the middle east as recently as 2009?

    August 31, 2011 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Brickell Princess

    I just love how all you unemployed desk jockeys are all of a sudden experts on infectious diseases. Amazing how a few dumb comments turn you qacks into an expert. In fact, the only one that seems to know anything is the hottie under the handle "Enrique".

    August 31, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Kevin

    "In the United States, plague cases in humans mostly occur in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Nevada."

    That explains the signs at the Grand Canyon warning you not to feed the squirrels because they can carry bubonic plague. I always thought that was a joke!

    August 31, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Anoymous

    Bring out your dead!

    August 31, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. lol

    this is lame

    August 31, 2011 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. shibbygirl

    wow, way to jinx it.

    August 31, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Maura

    This is off subject, certainly not plague related, however we do seem to have some microbiologists and historians here. Does anyone know what caused the "sweating sickness" of the 16th and 17th centuries? I've tried to do some research but it seems to come up with a lot of unknowns. I was curious to know if it was a viral or bacterial infection, where it came from and why it suddenly ceased to exist? Any thoughts?

    August 31, 2011 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Doctor John

      Hyperthyroidism. Graves Disease.

      August 31, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
  50. F

    I think it's definitely worth investigating still. The fact remains that a plague existed that re-emerged several times in some form, that managed to wipe out a huge percentage of the population very quickly. Studying the medieval plague could give insight into how newly introduced pathogens affect large populations.

    A newly introduced infectious agent is often far more deadly than one that has existed for a while. This is because, for a microorganism to spread (be it bacteria, fungi or viruses), it needs to keep the host alive long enough for it to propagate throughout a large geographic area. Otherwise it dies with the host and doesn't spread, it then goes extinct.

    New species of microorganisms that are introduced (or a new strain of virus) have not yet evolved to live symbiotically with their host. It's only after the organism has spread and had many billions of replications that it ends up evolving into something that doesn't just up and kill it's host (killing itself with it). This is why pandemics like SARS and H1N1 can be so deadly in their first iteration, and decades later they cause only a fraction of the fatalities they initially did.

    Studying how the ancient yersinia pestis ancestor evolved into the current strain could give great insight into the changes that take place for microorganisms to become stable members of a world's ecosystem, as opposed to a quick, sweeping infection that kills itself off by destroying all it's possible hosts.

    It's also always possible (albeit unlikely) this ancient bacteria could re-emerge. Many diseases that rarely occur today still have known reservoirs where they can flourish until an unlucky human comes in contact with it. For instance, the bacteria that causes leprosy (Mycobacterium Leprae) has a reservoir in armadillos. Identification of the ancient yersinia pestis ancestor could provide information on prevention/vaccination which could come in handy should the bacteria emerge (which could potentially give us a huge head start in providing a treatment if there ever was a pandemic).

    August 31, 2011 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.