A team of researchers found one of the world’s most infamous bacteria in a 20 million year old fossil of a flea. The bacteria was a prehistoric strain of Yersinia pestis, more commonly known as the Black Death.
The bubonic plague affected more than a third of the population of Europe back in the 14th century. In the same century, the Black Death reduced the world population by more than 15%, causing nearly 100 million deaths.
Researchers believe that the bacteria is most likely an ancient strain of Yersinia pestis. The team discovered the bacteria near the insect’s mouth and near its rectum, under the form of droplets.
Entomologists explained that not only the fossil bacteria closely resembles the physical properties of the plague bacteria, but it also was found near the flea’s rectum, which is also the case with contemporary plague bacteria. Researchers from the Oregon State University said that the bacteria found in the fossil can be associated with the modern method the plague is spread by fleas.
The fossil was found in the Dominican Republic, somewhere at middle distance between Santiago and Puerto Plata. The flea was contained in an amber and it was found in an amber mine. Geologists say that the entire region was once an immense tropical forest.
After the team of researchers carefully analyzed the shape, size and other characteristics of the bacteria contained by the flea. They have concluded that all of its properties are strikingly similar to more modern forms of the plague bacteria. Of all bacteria, only Yersinia pestis comes under such unique spherical forms. The fossil bacteria exhibits the same traits as well.
Scientists believed for a long time that the plague bacteria was a product of fleas. But now there is evidence that prior plagues were caused by different strains of the same bacteria, of which many are now extinct. The team researchers believe that the bacteria has been evolving throughout time, and fleas only acted as carriers.
Although the ancestors of modern fleas have disappeared a long time ago, long after the disappearance of dinosaurs around 66 million years ago, scientists have found Dino Era insects which bear some strikingly similar characteristics with with our fleas.
Many researchers began wondering if besides the meteor strike disease played a role in the extinction of dinosaurs too. The team of researchers are excited about their new findings and are fascinated about the possibility that the disease existed long before any modern animals and humans ever existed. The discovery would proe that plague could have played a big role in the extinction of many species.
Photo credits: Public-Domain-Image