More than 20 million years ago, a flea with an attached bacterium remained graved in amber, thus constituting evidence of what scientists believe to be the bubonic disease, a historic killer.
The discovery of the Yernisia Pestis, a plague bacterium which killed approximately a half of the Europe’s population in the 14th century, could be evidence that proves the fact that the bacteria existed a long before this event happened.
These findings were made by scientists from Oregon State University and published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
However, scientists claim that they couldn’t establish for sure if the bacteria is indeed a Yernisia Pestis, although the size, form and other characteristics resemble very much the actual bacteria.
“Aside from physical characteristics of the fossil bacteria that are similar to plague bacteria, their location in the rectum of the flea is known to occur in modern plague bacteria,” said George Poinar, a researcher.
The bacteria found in the flea fossil shows how this plague was transmitted. When a flea used an infected animal as its food, the bacteria taken from the animal’s blood remained in the flea, making it impossible to feed again, as it would block the flea’s stomach. As a consequence, when trying to feed again, the flea would force the bacteria back into another animal.
Scientists believe that this kind of regurgitated bacteria may have been found in the semi-precious stone.
Poinar said that if he could establish for sure that the discovered bacteria is indeed a Yernisia, this could lead to an evidence that this plague was a massive killer long before the human appeared on Earth.
The amber was found in the Dominican Republic which in the past was a tropical moist forest.
Poinar also stated that what makes this discovery interesting is the fact that only a few fleas have others microorganisms attached to them. Also, this finding has some features that indicate the fact that this species became extinct many years ago.
This finding is very important, taking into consideration the fact that the bubonic plague still represents a threat for both humans and animals. In the U.S., 4 people suffering from this disease died, although now it can be treated with antibiotics.
During the Middle Ages, the disease was entitled the Black Death because of the frightful appearance of the victims and affected people from Europe and Asia. The statistics show that the disease killed between 75 and 200 million people.
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