It is one of the most well-known historical events of human history, with nursery rhymes written about it, literature devoted to it and art graphically depicting its ravenous effects. The Black Death was one of the most distressing pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 75 to 200 million people, peaking in Europe between 1346 and 1353. However, new research has found that the plague goes as far back as the early Bronze Age, with similar pathogens having the potential to arise and evolve. 

An international team of researchers from the universities of Copenhagen, Denmark and Cambridge have used ancient DNA to reveal that the earliest form of the disease was pneumonic and spread via human-to-human contact. Genetic mutations then allowed Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis), the bacteria that causes plague, to survive in the gut of fleas, leading to the devastation caused by the widespread plagues of the 14th and 17th Centuries. Their findings have been published in the journal ‘Cell’. 

Biological Science applicantscould look into ground-breaking DNA tests that have identified historical pandemics, leading to their prevention or eradication. Geography and Archaeology and Anthropology applicants may further explore the demographic factors that lead to highly lethal diseases being sustained. 

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