Los Angeles Times

Ancient ancestor of the bacteria that causes plague found in 5,000-year-old human remains

In an ancient grave in Sweden, scientists have unearthed the oldest known strain of a deadly bacteria that has killed millions of people over thousands of years.

They call it Yersinia pestis. You may know it as the plague.

The new discovery suggests that the microscopic bacteria has been wiping out great swaths of the human population for more than 5,000 years - destroying empires, spurring political uprisings and leaving a permanent mark on regional gene pools.

"What we found in the Swedish grave site is not only the oldest sample of the Y. pestis genome but also the oldest version of the genome," said Simon Rasmussen, a metagenomics researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, who led the work. "Think of it as the root of the tree."

The oldest recorded plague pandemic, known as Justinian's Plague, dates to

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