Bacteria in ancient flea may be ancestor of the Black Death
About 20 million years ago a single flea became entombed in amber with tiny bacteria attached to it, providing what researchers believe may be the oldest evidence on Earth of a dreaded and historic killer — an ancient strain of the bubonic plague.
If indeed the fossil bacteria are related to plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, the discovery would show that this scourge, which killed more than half the population of Europe in the 14th century, actually had been around for millions of years before that, traveled around much of the world, and predates the human race.
Talk about stasis. One wonders what it was doing in the meantime.
These findings are in conflict with modern genomic studies indicating that the flea-plague-vertebrate cycle evolved only in the past 20,000 years, rather than 20 million. However, today there are several strains of Yersinia pestis, and there is evidence that past outbreaks of this disease were caused by still different strains, some of which are extinct today.
While human strains of Yersinia could well have evolved some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, Poinar said, ancient Yersinia strains that evolved as rodent parasites could have appeared long before humans existed. These ancient strains would certainly be extinct by now, he said More.
We shall see. There is no shortage of rodents n the world.
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