An international team of scientists has recently managed to identify the possible starting point of the pandemic known as the Black Death or the Great Plague which devastated Eurasia during the 14th century, tracing its origins to a town called Laishevo located in modern-day Russia.
The researchers reached this conclusion by reconstructing 34 genomes of Yersinia pestis – the bacteria which causes the plague – collected from the remains of 34 individuals who died in 10 different countries, in order to trace the “genetic family tree” of the disease.
“Our phylogenetic reconstruction shows that the LAI009 isolate from Laishevo is ancestral to the BD isolates from southern, central, western and northern Europe, as well as to the previously published late 14th-century isolates from London and Bolgar City,” researchers wrote in a paper published in Nature Communications. “Since all other second pandemic genomes share an additional derived SNP on Branch 1, we interpret LAI009 as the most ancestral form of the strain that entered Europe during the initial wave of the second pandemic that has been identified to date”.
Maria Spyrou, an archaeogeneticist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History named Maria, further explained that "these findings indicate a single entry of Y. pestis into Europe through the east," as that one particular strain the team identified seems to be the ancestor of all the following second plague pandemic strains, according to Science Alert.
The media outlet points out, however, that since such reconstructions are “necessarily limited by the scope of skeletal remains you get to dig up and study”, there is a possibility that the plague “may have had earlier forms in other places that have not yet been sufficiently tested.”
"It is possible that additional interpretations may be revealed with future discoveries of unsampled diversity in western Eurasia," Spyrou remarked.