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They discover that the genes that protected us from the black plague centuries ago are linked to current diseases


It is estimated that the historic pandemic killed more than half of the population in the most populated areas of Europe, Asia and Africa.

The black plague, caused by the ‘Yersinia pestis’ bacterium, is considered one of the pandemics deadliest

in history. Caused the death, according to estimates, of more than 50 % of the inhabitants of the most populated areas of Europe, Asia and Africa almost 700 years. However, the genes that shaped the immune system of survivors could today be related to predisposition to autoimmune diseases, according to McMaster University.

To identify the specific genetic differences between the survivors and the victims of the pandemic, as well as the way in which this event marked the evolution of the immune system, an international team of researchers analyzed 500 DNA samples from the 14th century, taken from plague victims buried in a London mass grave between 1348 Y 1349, as well as people who died before the arrival of the disease and survivors.

In particular, scientists looked for signs of disease-related genetic adaptation in the London population, zeroing in on a “window of 64 years before, during and after the Black Death, which reached in the middle of the decade of 1300.” After analyzing the samples, they discovered four genes

associated with the immune response to the bacterium ‘Yersinia pestis’.

According to their results, published this Wednesday in Nature, individuals with two identical copies of the ‘ERAP2’ gene had between a 37 % and a 50 % more likely to survive than those without, so this characteristic was passed down from generation to generation, decreasing the mortality rate of the waves of bubonic plague, which would be repeated in the following centuries.

Rastrean el origen más probable de la segunda pandemia de peste negra, lo que Rastrean el origen más probable de la segunda pandemia de peste negra, lo que

As this became less and less devastating, the alleles that provided protection against ‘death black’ continued to evolve. However, some of its current variants are associated with greater susceptibility to Cohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body itself, destroying healthy tissue in the digestive tract and joints, respectively .

These results, the researchers note, provide empirical evidence of an association between autoimmune diseases and adaptation as a species to an infectious disease that wiped out much of the population .

“The selective advantage associated with the selected ‘loci’ is one of the strongest ever recorded in humans, demonstrating that a single pathogen can have a very strong impact on the evolution of the immune system” and, therefore, of humanity, pointed out Luis Barreiro, co-author of the publication.


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