Recent studies have discovered that a minor bacterial mutation made the Black Death deadly, evolving from a harmless stomach flu to the lethal lung infection that has plagued the world. Going as far back as the 6th century, Yersinia pestis, otherwise known as the Justinian plague, has claimed the lives of many people since its first occurrence.
Between 30 and 50 million have been afflicted and perished by the disease, with another whopping 150 million to follow in the 14th century. It has been known as one of the widest spread and deadliest pandemics of our known world. Even though it has disappeared with time and the development of modern technology, medicine and hygiene. And yet, researchers have conducted an experiment on an ancestral form of the bacteria to discover new information that could aid us against diseases today.
They inserted a gene called PLA into an infected rat found in the wilds of Asia, effectively breaking down blood clots that released the bubonic plague. The simple addition has turned what could have been a simple gastrointestinal infection into the fatal lung disease that spread through a mere sneeze among many. The evolution is said to have occurred 1,500 years ago, enabling the infection to further extend through bodies and lymph nodes, as stated by microbiologist Wyndham Lathem of Northwestern University in Chicago.
It allowed the disease to make its way more swiftly through the bloodstream, claiming its victims with speed and infecting with ease. According to the researcher, the genetic mutation has increased the bacteria’s ability to travel into deeper tissues by around 100 when put in comparison to its predecessor.
The pathogen, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, has been examined and compared to the bacteria that caused the Black Death. The test revealed that a minor change in its genetic structure and in an amino acid gave it the ability to spread world-wide and create a pandemic. With a population of only 450 million during the 14th century, the plague marked a dark spot in our history.
While we cannot change or save the lives that have been lost, researchers claim that we can take note on how a minor genetic mutation can turn any harmless disease into a lethal illness to threaten humanity. It demands the attention of modern medicine and further studies are to be conducted in order to avoid and prevent another pandemic from taking the lives of millions.
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