Early divergent strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 years ago

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


  • Kasper Nielsen
  • Ludovic Antoine Alexandre Orlando
  • Karl-Göran Sjögren
  • Anders Gorm Pedersen
  • Alex Van Dam
  • Henrik Bjørn Nielsen
  • Pavel Avetisyan
  • Andrey Epimakhov
  • Mikhail Viktorovich Khalyapin
  • Artak Gnuni
  • Aivar Kriiska
  • Irena Lasak
  • Mait Metspalu
  • Vyacheslav Moiseyev
  • Andrei Gromov
  • Dalia Pokutta
  • Lehti Saag
  • Liivi Varul
  • Levon Yepiskoposyan
  • Thomas Sicheritz-Ponten
  • Robert A Foley
  • Marta Mirazón Lahr
  • Rasmus Nielsen
  • Kristian Kristiansen

The bacteria Yersinia pestis is the etiological agent of plague and has caused human pandemics with millions of deaths in historic times. How and when it originated remains contentious. Here, we report the oldest direct evidence of Yersinia pestis identified by ancient DNA in human teeth from Asia and Europe dating from 2,800 to 5,000 years ago. By sequencing the genomes, we find that these ancient plague strains are basal to all known Yersinia pestis. We find the origins of the Yersinia pestis lineage to be at least two times older than previous estimates. We also identify a temporal sequence of genetic changes that lead to increased virulence and the emergence of the bubonic plague. Our results show that plague infection was endemic in the human populations of Eurasia at least 3,000 years before any historical recordings of pandemics.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)571-582
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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