Diseases, Conditions, Syndromes

Black Death origin mystery solved... 675 years later

A deadly pandemic with mysterious origins: it might sound like a modern headline, but scientists have spent centuries debating the source of the Black Death that devastated the medieval world.

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Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA can be loosely described as any DNA recovered from biological samples that have not been preserved specifically for later DNA analyses. Examples include the analysis of DNA recovered from archaeological and historical skeletal material, mummified tissues, archival collections of non-frozen medical specimens, preserved plant remains, ice and permafrost cores, Holocene plankton in marine and lake sediments, and so on. Unlike modern genetic analyses, ancient DNA studies are characterised by low quality DNA. This places limits on what analyses can achieve. Furthermore, due to degradation of the DNA molecules, a process which correlates loosely with factors such as time, temperature and presence of free water, upper limits exist beyond which no DNA is deemed likely to survive. Current estimates suggest that in optimal environments, i.e environments which are very cold, such as permafrost or ice, an upper limit of max 1 Million years exists. As such, early studies that reported recovery of much older DNA, for example, from Cretaceous dinosaur remains, have been proven to be wrong, with results stemming from sample or extract contamination, as opposed to authentic extracted DNA.

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