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Black Death's Genome Cracked 252

exceed writes: "This article on Wired, and this article on Yahoo! News states that scientists have decoded the genome of the bubonic plague bacterium. This will now (hopefully soon) lead to vaccinations and treatments for the disease it causes."
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Black Death's Genome Cracked

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  • How much do we have in common with it? Are we the cure?
    • Have you seen the movie "Cobra", with Sylvester Stallone? That's one (or should I say "the") memorable quote from that film.
    • by Spootnik ( 518145 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:58AM (#2387252)
      Actually, while the destruction of the cats in the Middle ages may have contributed to (or even allowed) the huge increase in the rat population leading to the "Black Plague", I do feel a need to point out something regarding *current* problems with bubonic plague. One of the major problems with the plague is that the fleas that carry it do not live *exclusively* on rats. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats, can get them too.

      According to my source at the Coconino County Health Department in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA, there have been less than 60 cases state wide, since the first recorded one in 1950, of what we commonly refer to as "bubonic plague". Bubonic plague is actually descriptive of a symptom, not the disease itself which is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. Yersinia pestis is, as mentioned in the earlier post, carried by fleas.

      The fleas of rats, mice, prairie dogs, squirrels, chipmunks and even rabbits can all carry Y. pestis. If your dog or cat is out running around free and catches or picks up a dead animal with infected fleas, your dog or cat can get those fleas. Once your pet has those fleas on him or her, they can be brought into your home and you can get the plague. However, this is apparently a very rare happening.

      In 1995 there were 5 cases of Plague (Y. pestis) in Arizona. 2 of these were in Coconino county. One of these was in a woman who apparently was infected while visiting relatives in Maricopa County. The other was a man who had been out shooting prairie dogs and had handled several of the carcasses, getting fleas from them. The person at the Coconino County Health Dept. did say it was much more likely to get the aforementioned fleas from a carcass that a dog or cat brought home than directly from your dog or cat, though that was certainly possible and is believed to have happened in the past.

      The point being, that while in the 14th century the "Black Death" (which is only assumed to be the same disease as Y. pestis) may or may not have been triggered by the decimation of the cat populations in Europe, we aren't living in the 1300's anymore. Now days, if you let your cat or dog run free he/she is liable to bring you a present that could cost you your life.

      And don't even get me started about Hanta virus....
      • food chain (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        cats make good dog food

        dogs make good mexican food

        mexicans make good chinese food

        don't eat chinese food or chinese people and you should be safe.

        no, wait, don't eat mexican food or mexican people and you should be safe.

        ah shit i lost the thread, just eat chiles and drink beer and you should be safe.

        except for that mexican/chinese sunburn.
      • Now days, if you let your cat or dog run free he/she is liable to bring you a present that could cost you your life.

        I'd say your overstating your case here.What you're forgetting to add is that even though your dog or your cat *may* bring you a nasty little surprise, this nasty little surprise isn't anywhere near as lethal today as it was back in the 1300's.

        At least, not for well-nourished, healthy "westerners" - IIRC, in the Indian subcontinent Plague epidemics break out every now and then, killing a fair number of people, but those deaths are probably caused more by the fact that the people hit have no stamina whatsoever due to the fact that they're malnourished. The same is true for other "deadly tropical diseases": Dengue fever, Malaria (the ordinary type, not the Malaria Tropica variety, which will kill just about anyone) and Cholera, to name but a few, won't kill a healthy adult, but in third world countries (to be more exact, in third world slums) these diseases, as well as the plague, *do* kill. In the 1300s, most of Europe was comparable to a present-day Calcuttan slum (if not worse), hence the black death took a lot of victims. Today, if you've got access to fair to good medical care, if you haven't been malnourished since (before) birth, contracting the plague will mean that you go see a doctor who gives you an antibiotic of some sort, you'll be feeling really miserable for a few days, and then you're cured.

        But yeah, you're right, occasionally dogs and cats do spread the plague bacterium.
      • Yesterday, the New York Times had an article reporting claims that "The Black Death" was not neccesarily the Bubonic Plague (Yersinia pestis) (NY Times article [nytimes.com]), and might have been a hemhorhagic fever-- perhaps even Ebola. The genome of Ebola, is, by the way, known.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:13AM (#2387150)
    Satan will sue these scientists under the DMCA for having cracked the protection of his copyrighted microscopic pupil. Will Congress learn to weigh all sides of an issue before passing random laws?
  • by Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:14AM (#2387151) Homepage
    Sounds like a great advance, but sadly I fear such information will also be used by some to develop even more deadly biological weapons.
    • Well, if the fear is biological weapons, then I don't think its much of a worry about what "new" weapons they'll come up with.

      Smallpox for example, would spread like crazy since we don't have a vaccine for it anymore.

      A single spec of Anthrax will kill you... I don't think you can get much more deadly.

      • Smallpox won't "spread like crazy" because you need to be within close proximity to an infected person. Once it becomes known that there is a major smallpox outbreak, you can be sure people will severely limit their interpersonal contacts. And there is indeed a smallpox vaccine. See this article. [cdc.gov]

        An excerpt:
        "The possible use of smallpox virus as a weapon by terrorists has stimulated growing international concern and led to a recent review by the World Health Organization of the global availability of smallpox vaccine. This review found approximately 60 million doses worldwide, with little current vaccine manufacture, although limited vaccine seed remains available (1). Ongoing discussions in the United States suggest that the national stockpile should contain at least 40 million doses to be held in reserve for emergency use, including in case of a terrorist release of smallpox virus (O'Toole, this issue, pp. 540-6).

        The current U.S. stockpile contains approximately 15.4 million doses of vaccinia vaccine (Dryvax) made from the New York City Board of Health strain of vaccinia and was produced by Wyeth Laboratories in 13 separate lots. The vaccine is lyophylized in glass vials with rubber stoppers and sealed with a metal band. When rehydrated, each vial contains 100 doses and has a potency of at least 108 plaque-forming units (pfu)/ml. Some vials of the vaccine stockpile have shown elevated moisture levels and thus failed routine quality control testing; however, the vaccine in these vials remains potent, and the failed lots have not been discarded.
    • I'm more afraid that the vaccine will cause problems too. Ever had a flu shot? They basically inject you with a weakened strain of the virus in order to make you immune, imagine if they inject people with something that isn't weak enough (I've gotten VERY bad flu "symptoms" from getting a flu shot).

      With something of this scope I'd rather take my chances without it. Personally if I found out that I had contracted some infectious disease as a result of bio-terrorism, I would be on the next flight to Pakistan trying to cross into Afghanistan so I could personally infect some of those idiots.
    • True. We must use our powers for good, not evil
    • Let's consider something for the time being here: Most of slashdot is people in computing-related fields. We know computing. Most of us don't know much beyond the few college-level bio courses... this isn't our area of expertise.

      For a moment, let's just replace the words, 'publishing bubonic plague genome information' with "releasing source code for the 2.4 Kernel". Are we all of a sudden afraid that the script kiddies are going to root our box, or do we realize that the release of such information will allow the many skilled programmers of the Linux world to make fine adjustments to the security features of Linux?

      I'm talking out of my ass for this last bit here, but I'd have to figure that it takes a significantly skilled person to engineer a more dangerous strain of a given bacteria. I would also have to figure that the thousands of other people with roughly the same skill level could probably come up with a vaccine in a shorter time period. If I wanted something super-destructive, I'd probably stick with a nuke. They're a lot cheaper, and no one's come up with a personal nuke/radiation proof shield that can be injected into a toddler.
      • This is a good point, but not an a perfect analogy (of course, nothing is a perfect analogy, or it would be the same thing :).

        When we release the linux source, we're pretty sure that it's secure enough that no one can write a piece of code to permanently destroy all the hardware in any running linux box in a short period of time.

        We (or at least, I) have no such confidence in genomes. Genome mapping is not fast, and just having a genome at this point doesn't necessarily give you a cure. (See: AIDS). Perhaps by the time scientists can effectively re-enginner a virus, they will be able to use that same genome to engineer a cure/vaccine. I don't know.

        But in the in-between time, someone could (theoretically) create a virus that killed enough people and spread fast enough to wipe essentially everyone out before a cure was found. I'm not sure whether our immune systems or the variations with people would always be enough to stop it.

        Mind you, I'm against this sort of activity (mapping the genomes of diseases). Right now I see more good coming of it than harm. But in the long run, I haven't really decided what I think yet -- I have no idea what the chances of each side cutting are.

  • Does this mean I won't lose 1 life point every time they hit me?

    Oh wait, this isn't the Diablo forum!

  • It's nice to see so many [nih.gov] genome-related research projects receive renewed interest and attention after the terrorist attacks.

    Although the citizens of the U.S. will probably suffer an unspeakable loss of civil liberties and privacy [cnn.com], we will probably reap many benefits from the medical research that was spurred.


  • I thought that there is already a cure for plage? I know it was a big problem back in middle ages, but does anyone still get sick with it?
    Sorry for stupid question. Please enlighten me.
  • Black Death (Score:3, Funny)

    by Digitalia ( 127982 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:24AM (#2387173) Homepage
    Rest asssured, lowly peasants. Your fair and benevolent rulers have presented you with the ultimate cure for the vile scourge known as the black death. This, a lowly bar of soap, shall be your floral scented cure! Fear not any longer.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oh come on...why do medical-science-type people have to muck about,
    wasting their time with old,
    uncommon illnesses like Bubonic Plague.

    I'd bet the number of BP cases are probably 50000 worldwide every year. maybe less.

    HSV2 -- why dont they decode _that_ genome and get cracking on something to help with that.

    I'm getting tired of all these damn blisters! :)
  • by alewando ( 854 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:32AM (#2387188)
    1. Antibiotics help a lot with treating bubonic plague, but they're only effective if the disease is first properly diagnosed. Because people are no longer used to contracting fatal diseases (which bubonic plague always is if left untreated), and because the symptoms are not all that different from symptoms of diseases people are used to shrugging off, the disease is often not diagnosed in time.
    2. Releasing the genome to the general public will help vaccination discoveries far more than it will help people who would use the plague for biological warfare. Frankly, you don't have to know the genetic sequence that underlies the organism in order to culture it and construct a suitable delivery device. In contrast, the benefits due to a vaccine discovery are obvious and numerous.
    3. A couple people do die of the bubonic plague every year, mostly in Asia and Africa. In addition to the importance of antibiotic treatment and a vaccine discovery, the importance of improving hygiene standards cannot be understated. It's a three-part chain involving rodents, fleas, and humans, so if you eliminate human contact with both, then you've effectively cut humans out of the loop and eliminated human infections.
    • Worldwide. In the US, it's more like "a couple", since it's mostly confined to people like veterinarians, who have a lot more contact with sick animals than does the rest of the population.
    • by Metallic Mongoose ( 147944 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @02:00AM (#2387257)
      "Because people are no longer used to contracting fatal diseases (which bubonic plague always is if left untreated"
      Actually, it isn't.

      The most virulent & deadly version of plague (pneumatic) has a mortality rate of aprox. 90% if left untreated...

      ...if (untreated) bubonic plague had a 100% mortality rate, european history would look very diffrent.
      • by Talisman ( 39902 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @07:31AM (#2387638) Homepage
        "The most virulent & deadly version of plague (pneumatic)..."

        Actually, there were three types:

        Bubonic (lymph nodes)
        Pneumonic (lungs)
        Septicemic (blood)

        The deadliest was Septicemic, killing 100% of the people that contracted it. However, there had to be a very specific set of circumstances (temerature, etc.) for a person to get this type.

        Just FYI, Pneumonic killed about 90% of the people that got it and Bubonic killed about 75%.
      • Few and far between is text that shows many that survived daily exposure ate two or more raw cloves of garlic daily. The stink surely was enough to ward off vampires and plague alike. Although it is unknown how common this practice was, we are only now starting to understand that eating raw garlic does, in fact, increase the body's ability to respond to invasion by disease.

        Oddly enough, there are also biblical accounts of people eating a cousin of garlic (sorry, don't remember the odd-ball name) which was said to also ward of disease. Go figure...

    • ...fatal diseases (which bubonic plague always is if left untreated)...

      Just a minor nitpick.

      "Without prompt antibiotic treatment, plague is fatal in 50 percent to 90 percent of cases.

      Even with appropriate antibiotics and hospital care, about 15 percent of plague patients in the United States die. Pneumonic plague is the most rapidly fatal form of plague, and most victims will die if they do not receive antibiotics within the first 18 hours after symptoms begin."
      -Source [intelihealth.com]

      It's not totally fatal, though those that survive often have permanent scaring. After all some infected people managed to live through it even back in the European dark ages. Of course it's more than bad enough that I wouldn't ever want to encounter it.
    • "the symptoms are not all that different from symptoms of diseases people are used to "

      => So the solution would be to use directly DNA Analysis, or an automated Marker Machine, so as to check immediatly the DNA Strain and treat it with proper care.
      Could also be used to be sure that the medicine we told you to take are effective against your own specific flue strain (that from somebody wo never cached the mainstream disease and ended up with an inneficient generic treatment)

      Only problem is that automated DNA Analysers are WAY out of budget for 99.999 Hospitals.

      But a part of the future lies there...

      "It's a three-part chain involving rodents, fleas, and humans" => I never understood the need for fleas, before somebody told me abour food chain. Right now, I still don't find a need for Mosquitoes (bloody bastards 8| ).
    • A couple of people per year die of plague here in Colorado. The disease is fairly common in the prairie dog population, and fleas can transmit it either directly to people, or to pet cats and dogs who then pass it along. In one recent case a man contracted the disease after being bit by a sick cat. It is not uncommon to find signs around prairie dog colonies in urban areas, posted by state health officials, warning of plague.
  • ...Like Blue Death, Green Death, White Death, Fuscia Death...

    Infectious Disease Variants! Collect the WHOLE set!

    • How about plaid death. Die from multiple infections of the plague, and get buried in an ugly suit. Very undignified.
    • Or possibly the White Plague. Wow, that works on so many levels if you've read Frank Herbert.

      The white plague - Top-notch genetic researcher loses his family in IRA bombing, goes insane, sells his house and everything he owns for a quarter million in lab equipment. Spends the next two years unraveling genetic code and designs himself the White Plague, his way of getting even. He unleashes the plague in Ireland and a handful of other places, then threatens to spread it to other nations if they try to interfere.

      The white plague was a genetically tailored disease that killed only women, while men remained carriers to spread the disease. Thus our protagonist would get his revenge by making the nation of Ireland feel the same loss he did.

      In the 70's, when this was written, it was sci-fi. Gene-tech was (pun intended) still in its embryonic phases. A first-year bio student can read the book and find that all the info in there that was cutting edge at the time of writing are now old hat. So, where are we headed?
  • This can now (maybe soon) also lead to even better biological weapons that can kill much more than the 200 millions that the plauge killed. Now scientists will be able to modify it and cause it to lead to even worser diseases.
  • Cats rule (Score:1, Interesting)

    During the christian, err I mean dark ages, people killed cats because they thought they were witches. The rodent population ran out of control, causing the black plauge problem. 1/3 of Europe was wiped out. The moral of the story. Cats rule, dogs drool.
  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:59AM (#2387255) Homepage
    Great! This is excellent! This is something that could have been great about 400 YEARS AGO!


    What they REALLY need to decode is whatever virus it is that prompts record executives to pull together a group of 4-5 teenage boys and turn them into a 'boy band'. Cure THAT virus, and the world will thank you.

  • So then the cures for cancer and aids should be just around the corner right?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Bad news: we haven't isolated any bacterium or virus that causes cancer, and there probably isn't one. Cancer seems to be a mutation in a cell that interferes with control of division. You almost need nanotech to do better than killing the affected cells and hoping the patient survives the process.

      AIDS doesn't get enough priority, because too many people regard life without sex as somehow worthwhile.
  • Excellent! (Score:4, Informative)

    by stevarooski ( 121971 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @02:01AM (#2387262) Homepage
    Bubonic plague is nasty, nasty stuff. . .I've read a lot about the various fun ways it can kill you through history books. For those who have no idea of what it did to Europe, read a good summary of the Black Death here [byu.edu].

    Also, before people go off on biological weapons, etc, consider that there have been several recent breakouts of this disease, particularly in the southwest US(where I'm from). Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out this [cnn.com] as an example. I remember reading in the paper in AZ about outbreaks occasionally and shuddering. A cure would be a godsend--even though there are only about 10-15 cases in the US a year, its a painful way to go.

    • I've read a lot about the various fun ways it can kill you through history books.

      Best to stay away from those history books then!


  • They'll never get out the exploits like vaccines and cures if they try to develop it in a closed development group. There are many skilled reverse-engineers in biology. Security through obscurity never works.

    Open Source Black Death!
    • I actually cannot tell if you are joking or not, but the genome is made publicly available. In fact, that is usually required for the work to be published. Furthermore, the Wellcome trust which is funding this work supports "open source science".

      From their press-release: "Details of the sequencing are posted on the internet so the information is freely available to researchers around the world."

  • The cure is simple: DON'T SAY THE WORD "SHIT" SO MUCH.

    It is a curse word, as overuse of it brings about the curse of the Black Death. Also avoid other curse words such as "fuck" and "mekrob".
  • i guess all those CPU cycles i contributed are showing some positive results! i didn't get much from SETI...
  • Just rememebered that as a child i used to sing
    "ring-a-ring-a roses,
    pocket full of posies,
    husha busha,
    all fall down"
    and never really understood what it was all about. then i found out that it was referring to the black plague epidemic of London when about a third(?) of the population was wiped out and people actually dropped dead on the streets...
  • A couple questions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Z4rd0Z ( 211373 ) <joseph at mammalia dot net> on Thursday October 04, 2001 @02:28AM (#2387310) Homepage
    Since the article mentions there is already a vaccine for this, why is there talk that this could be used to create a vaccine? Why would we need another?

    The scientists were saying they knew that the bacteria modified itself and they even knew that it did it 1500 years ago. How do they know that? Would anyone with some knowledge of this care to speculate?

    • Since the article mentions there is already a vaccine for this, why is there talk that this could be used to create a vaccine? Why would we need another?

      The press release from the Sanger Center actually says that they have a vaccine undergoing trials and that the sequencing efforts from this project helped the research for the vaccine. You don't need a full genome to do sequence analysis. Indeed, if you have some idea for what you are looking for, you can find fairly efficiently. The scientists were saying they knew that the bacteria modified itself and they even knew that it did it 1500 years ago. How do they know that? Would anyone with some knowledge of this care to speculate?

      Here is a speculation, because I have not read the actual Nature paper: They recognize some genomic material in the bacteria coming from some other bacteria. By analysing the amount of mutations in the incorporated material, they can get an estimate of how long ago it was incorporated.

      Speculation 2: They computed evolutionary tree for different strains of plague bacteria and its relatives based on some genomic region with nice properties. This tree could give you estimates for when the strains started to deviate. Then, by studying for what bacteria the new modified material is common, you can decide the earliest point of inclusion.

  • If it doesn't come in an easy to use powder, then I'm just too busy for it. I'll learn to live with my plague until it fits my hectic lifestyle.
  • A few years ago, there was a resurgence in the number of cases of tuberculosis, which was supposed to have been pretty well eliminated in the Western world. The basic cause of this increase was the presence of a population of immune-compromised individuals - AIDS patients.

    I'm not suggesting that we're likely to see a similar resurgence of bubonic plague; the mechanism of transmission is very different. My point is that conditions at some point in the future could allow a plague outbreak to occur.

    Could an antibiotic resistant variant of bubonic plague appear? Could enviromental conditions increase the number of plague carrying rodents? The list goes on. While this research might not be a priority, it's certainly worthwhile.

    Per Ardua Ad Astra
  • This article [slashdot.org] in the New York Times discusses the possibility that the black plage was caused by an ebola-like virus:

    "In "Biology of Plagues: Evidence from Historic Populations," published in March, the authors argue that a hemorrhagic virus, like Ebola, probably caused the Black Death and most of the smaller epidemics that struck Europe for the next three centuries, not bubonic plague. The authors, Dr. Susan Scott, a demographer, and Dr. Christopher J. Duncan, a zoologist, say their theory answers many lingering questions about the rapid spread and virulence of the Black Death."

    The Yersinia pestis work is of course still very interesting and important, but I think the virus theory makes more sense... check it out!

  • by Lars Arvestad ( 5049 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @02:49AM (#2387341) Homepage Journal
    Instead of reading fluffy sources such as Wired and Yahoo!, why don't you check out some real informational sites? This can be seen as blatant karma-whoring, but I would really appreciate if submitters of science stories dug out links like these before posting. Gives much better credibility, IMHO.
    • For those who don't scorn the dead-tree format,
      this classic has a largish chapter devoted to
      the Black Death and its effects upon medieval
      society and thinking. An Amazon link:
      http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/034534957 1/ qid=1002208191/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_2_1/103-6350268-028 3007\
    • Karma whoring or not, I appreciate it quite a bit. Anyone who actually has some interest in actually looking at what the cracked genome actually entails wants this sort of info. Thanks for the links!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This article [smh.com.au] in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests rats and fleas may not be to blame for the spread of the plague.
  • Not far from AIDS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by manon ( 112081 ) <slashdot@@@menteb...org> on Thursday October 04, 2001 @02:54AM (#2387352) Homepage Journal
    This is geat news, but scientists also dicovered something else. In the years when the plague was still making thousands die in Europe, some people develloped an immunity, based on their genes. Call it a mutation.
    Now the chances are VERY big that this same immunity is causing some people that are HIV possitive never to get AIDS.
    Now we can only hope that the two discoveries can work together in ending both AIDS and the plague.
    • Re:Not far from AIDS (Score:2, Informative)

      by manon ( 112081 )
      This is an update of above. Here are some links:
      Black Plague, AIDS immunity linked [nwsource.com]
      Scientists Discover Similarity in HIV and Black Death [nationalviatical.org]
      • Re:Not far from AIDS (Score:3, Informative)

        by koekepeer ( 197127 )
        Interesting observations, but how sure are we that the "Black Death" is caused by Y. pestis, and not by a viral agent (as pointed out in a previous post)? Without that presumption, the whole argument of Y. pestis, and HIV using the same cells to attack the host (human macrophages) is invalid.

        But let's stay positive and hope this little far-fetched theory turns out to be true. Tell me, how are you going to cure AIDS with it? Targeted gene replacement of CCR5 in macrophages? That's SciFi, and won't happen in the next 10 yrs IM-not-so-HO. Also, it's not very cost-effective: it only works as a defence when you get infected by someone in the earlier stages of HIV infection, so the use is to limited. Plus, I don't see how the genome of Y.pestis would help to understand the HIV-macrophage virus-host interaction better, but maybe I'm prejudiced towards the use of genomics. I wouldn't bet my money on this being the cure for aids.

        Okay let's stop here. I've lost the average /. user already, so there's no karma in this one, unless the moderator is a molecular biologist or something ;-)


        Meneer de Koekepeer
  • scientists have decoded the genome of the bubonic plague bacterium. This will now (hopefully soon) lead to vaccinations and treatments for the disease it causes." Great! Now I can finally get rid of that bird mask, holy relic, and incense burner I'd been keeping around in case the Black Death returned...
  • Yeah i am bored and read these, and you can too.

    • Some bubonic plauge history [byu.edu].
    • Center for disease control plague info [cdc.gov].
    • Current Bubonic Plague treatment [kcom.edu] and here [internationalsos.com].
    • Plague outbreak news [who.int]
  • by PD ( 9577 ) <slashdotlinux@pdrap.org> on Thursday October 04, 2001 @04:13AM (#2387453) Homepage Journal
    In their study, published in the Oct. 4 issue of Nature, the researchers mapped a strain of plague that killed a veterinarian in the United States in 1992. He contracted the disease after an infected cat sneezed on him.

    Oh my god I would hate to die that way. Please just let me drown or get consumed by rats. Anything, but please don't let them print an obituary about me that admits that I was killed by a sneezing cat.

  • By chance my Black Death World Tour T-Shirt from NortherSun.com arived today. Its a fun shirt with the years it spread across Europe on it and on the back it has a list of cities it "toured".

    Also some of you RPG or SCI-FI lovers should check out the series called Amber for another story of the black death.

  • This seems like it's oh... a couple of centuries late (give or take) =P

    "Bring out ya dead..."

  • They are frequent plague outbreaks in Colorado prarie dogs, California rats and rabbits. One suspected case earlier this year turned out to be another kind of pneumonia. The victim had lived next to an infected prarie dog population. In California they close the San Jacinto parks now and then because of rodent plague.
  • A "bleeding plague" [telegraph.co.uk] is torturing Afganistan refugees today. Three years of drought, twenty years of civil war, and the anticpiated US retailer have caused dreadful living conditions.
  • /sarcasm ON!

    The plague has been causing problems for mankind since the middle ages! Damned high time they finally dealt with it! Of course, if it took them this long to deal with the plague, I don't expect to see any cures for these modern diseases any time soon! Damned doctors cost too much anyway...
  • Grand Forks, ND (Score:2, Interesting)

    by forest_rock ( 521496 )
    A friend of mine has been doing research at UND, Grand Forks. Most of the bug's DNA has been decoded for a long time. They've been cloning and disabling black death for years in their labs. Recently (this past summer), they engineered a mutant hybrid which isn't dangerous to humans. With the complete genome, they should be able to do really fun stuff with it.
  • .. but unfortunately, it's not up on their website yet -- I just got the issue yesterday.

    Apparently, the Soviets developed a strain that is resistant to antibiotics before the bio-weapons military program was shut down in the early 90s.

    They worry about plauge over there the way our guys worry about anthrax over here.

    BTW, they mentioned in the article that in addition to small-to-moderate sized outbreaks in third world countries, we receive a couple of cases of plague here in the U.S., mostly in the Southeast where people are infected by bites from prairie dog fleas. The plague bug lives quite happily amongst the prairie dogs -- it's only an unfortunate turn in natural selection that made it infect humans (remember, the number rule for a parasite is *DON'T KILL THE HOST*).
  • Bubonic to Pneumonic (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AKAJack ( 31058 )
    As I remember it the biggest problem with the "Black Plague" of the middle ages was that Bubonic plague can become Pneumonic (of the lungs) plague and then humans can infect other humans by coughing/sneezing and *that* is the reason for the wide spread of the disease. It was not necessarily because everyone had a house full of flea infested rats.

    Hygine does play an obvious and important factor in all of this as bathing was seen as something to avoid in order to stay healthy.

    Feel free to correct me as needed.
  • You could probably use the information to create a nifty biological weapon!

    (Yes! I am being a cynic)
  • by jcr ( 53032 )
    In what sense is the genome "decoded"?

    I though that gene sequencing is just a matter of *transcribing* the sequence, and that at that point you still have a lot of work to do to figure out what gene does what with what protein.
    • Gene functions (Score:2, Informative)

      by Black Acid ( 219707 )
      See Y. Pestis Functional Classification [sanger.ac.uk] - it has a list of what all the genes in the Bubonic Plague bacterium do. Very heavy stuff..here's a short excerpt:

      1 Small molecule metabolism

      • 1.A [sanger.ac.uk] Degradation [18]
        • 1.A.1 [sanger.ac.uk] Carbon compounds [66]
        • 1.A.2 [sanger.ac.uk] Amino acids [23]
      • 1.B Energy metabolism
        • 1.B.1 [sanger.ac.uk] Glycolysis [12]
        • 1.B.10 [sanger.ac.uk] Glyoxylate bypass [3]
        • 1.B.2 [sanger.ac.uk] Pyruvate dehydrogenase [4]
        • 1.B.3 [sanger.ac.uk] Tricarboxylic acid cycle [15]
        • 1.B.5 [sanger.ac.uk] Pentose phosphate pathway [3]
        • 1.B.5.a Oxidative branch
        • 1.B.5.b [sanger.ac.uk] Non-oxidative branch [4]
      • 1.B.6 [sanger.ac.uk] Entner-Doudoroff pathway [2]
      If you're a biologist or just curious you should definitely check this out. I wish I had this kind of info when I did a report on the Black Plague in High School!
  • I find this interesting because the bubonic plague infects the human body by the same means as HIV (by attaching to a receptor on the cell membrane, which is normally responsible for inflammation around cuts/etc.) Perhaps this discovery will be beneficial to AIDS patients.

    On a side note, natural selection has made many people of European descent are resistant to HIV. A small percentage are actually entirely immune.
  • Now if only they could crack the genome of the Blue (Screen of) Death.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings