HAMILTON, Ontario, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Canadian researchers say they've sequenced the genome of the Black Death, one of the most devastating epidemics in human history.
This is the first reconstruction of the genome of any ancient pathogen, and it could lead to a better understanding of modern infectious diseases, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario said.
The sequenced genome will allow researchers to track changes in the pathogen's evolution and virulence over time, a university release said Wednesday.
"The genomic data show that this bacterial strain, or variant, is the ancestor of all modern plagues we have today worldwide," geneticist Hendrik Poinar said. "Every outbreak across the globe today stems from a descendant of the medieval plague."
The Black Death was a variant of the Yersinia pestis bacterium that killed 50 million Europeans between 1347 and 1351.
"We found that in 660 years of evolution as a human pathogen, there have been relatively few changes in the genome of the ancient organism, but those changes, however small, may or may not account for the noted increased virulence of the bug that ravaged Europe," Poinar said.