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Scientists Recover Black Death RNA From Exhumed Victims

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the what-could-go-wrong? dept.

Medicine 105

Richard.Tao writes "Scientists have recovered the RNA of the virus that caused the plague by digging through an English mass grave, and compiling [from several partial examples] the genetics of the virus. Though the plague still persists, scientists have believe the ancient strain was different due to a different onset of symptoms."

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And the Black Death says: (5, Funny)

drainbramage (588291) | about 3 years ago | (#37719822)

I'm not dead yet!

Re:And the Black Death says: (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 3 years ago | (#37720406)

I'm not dead yet!

When we weaponize it, you will be.

Re:And the Black Death says: (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | about 3 years ago | (#37721740)

No, it'll only be a flesh wound!

Re:And the Black Death says: (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 3 years ago | (#37721788)

fro the few not getting the reference: "Flesh Wound" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKhEw7nD9C4 [youtube.com]
and more on point, "Not Dead Yet" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGFXGwHsD_A [youtube.com]

Re:And the Black Death says: (1)

monkyyy (1901940) | about 3 years ago | (#37722086)

yay monty python quotes

"next item on the a-gen-der; the meaning of life, bill youve have some time w/ this....... well the meaning of life can be broken down to two fundamental concepts, number one: people are not wearing enough hats, so i think we all make tf2 free for the good of the world"

Re:And the Black Death says: (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | about 3 years ago | (#37723926)

But what is your favorite color? (or would it be colour?)

As We Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37721212)

We need to keep in mind the life in the world around us. It's ok to do whatever we will, so long as we keep captive preservation alive in well. I commend these scientists, in all the world's history can anyone think of a more deserving lifeform to preserve than the black plague? Also, can we feed it hippies?

Re:As We Progress (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 3 years ago | (#37721812)

no but you can feed it hipsters there are more of them, and no one will miss them. there are few hippies left most either evolved or rather devolved into high school English teachers, or joined the GNU project

Still Alive. (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about 3 years ago | (#37735654)

I'm not dead yet!

This was a triumph.
I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.
Aperture Science
We do what we must
because we can.
For the good of all of us.
Except the ones who are dead.

Nice.... (2, Interesting)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 3 years ago | (#37719844)

Just in time to start Zombie Apocalypse for Halloween. Seriously, though, I always assumed that the plague was a bacterium and it would be easy to combat it with antibiotics. Ouch, clearly not so. Seems that an outbreak even today could do severe damage.

Re:Nice.... (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#37719886)

Way to go Slashdot! Stick with computers

The scientists isolated the DNA (not RNA) of the Bacterium (not virus) that caused the "Black Death" (the Plague).

That's like saying Ford recently upgraded their turboprop so it can run on liquid nitrogen.

Arrrgh!

Re:Nice.... (2)

Richard.Tao (1150683) | about 3 years ago | (#37719954)

My bad, I thought it was a virus and posted it as RNA and virus, instead of DNA, bacterium. At least it's consistent!

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37719984)

Too bad you can't retract the story now, given such a fundamental misapprehension. The SNR here was bad enough *before* this trainwreck of misinformation.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720014)

RIF=Reading is Fundamental

The very link you cite has both DNA and the genus and species of the bacterium stated clearly in the article.

Re:Nice.... (1)

hypergreatthing (254983) | about 3 years ago | (#37720202)

the fact that the editors green lighted this with no checking whatsoever is disturbing to say the least. Oh wait a second, this is slashdot! no editors and no journalistic integrity whatsoever! carry on.

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720890)

"Journalistic integrity" lol.

P.S. You owe me a keyboard. Mail it to

Anonymous Coward
1060 West Addison
Chicago, IL 60613

Spoiler [slashdot.org]

Re:Nice.... (3, Informative)

kaliann (1316559) | about 3 years ago | (#37720304)

Also, viruses can be DNA or RNA.

Re:Nice.... (1)

nashv (1479253) | about 3 years ago | (#37722852)

No. It isn't. To anyone who knows a little biology, it was misleading on a couple of levels.

  • 1. Viruses can be DNA or RNA based.
  • 2. Bacteria also have both DNA and RNA
  • 3. There was some doubt about what the identity of the Plague pathogen was - if it turned out to be a virus, it would be newsworthy.
  • 4. If one knew, the plague pathogen was bacterium, isolating RNA from a bacterium would be a world-first and an immense technical feat. Hell, even the idea that RNA survives that long opens all sorts of pandora's boxes.

Thanks for the adrenaline rush anyway.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Glothar (53068) | about 3 years ago | (#37724220)

There are DNA and RNA viruses.

I actually clicked the story because I was shocked that anyone could:

  1. Re-create a bacteria from RNA
  2. Recover usable RNA after a couple centuries at non-ideal temperatures

No offense, but it was so non-sensical, I assumed that it was the media butchering science again.

Re:Nice.... (1)

jd (1658) | about 3 years ago | (#37719960)

You mean they didn't? *duck*

What's interesting is that the Black Death is a mutation of a perfectly harmless bacterium that is common in the soil and that modern versions of the Plague are very mild variants of the Black Death - suggesting that further mutations seriously reduced its potency. A good thing.

That's typical (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 3 years ago | (#37720176)

I read once where this (reduced potency over time) is typical.

When an infectious agent jumps species, it's typically extremely virile and will easily kill the host. This puts selection pressure on the agent to be less fatal, so that the agent has more time to spread among the available hosts.

For example, the flu killed 20% of those infected in 1918, but today it's mostly an annoyance.

Probably the same thing here. A mutation results in a particularly virulent strain, which lessens in potency over time.

Re:That's typical (1)

harley78 (746436) | about 3 years ago | (#37721570)

you're kinda sorta wrong. the 1918 flu is different than today's flu in that it's mutated; but don't think it's a direct descendant. The 1918 flu it's now thought, initiated a cytokine storm in otherwise virile infectants. which led to death by immune response; and not the virus itself. Y. pestis is different in that as the article states, the hypothesis is that the rearrangement of genes is what causes it's specific "virulance". Oh, and 14th century Europe was a dirty, dirty place. This bacterium is alive and well all over the place. HTH

Re:That's typical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722402)

The flu existed before 1918, and the strains mutate all the time. Not only can a dangerous variety happen again, the risk is real enough for the WHO to closely monitor [who.int] how flu strains develop worldwide.

Re:Nice.... (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 3 years ago | (#37720216)

I pondered for quite a while expanding on the following but you're a bright person well grounded in logic, math and history and have been here long enough to build a whole story out of two little words. By being a little bit obscure I may escape accusations of panic-mongering:

Drunkard's walk.

Re:Nice.... (1)

jd (1658) | about 3 years ago | (#37727738)

You are correct in your reference. Random mutations can - and will - occur all the time. Eventually, such a mutation will be deadly to humans. In the case of this particular pathogen, it may find other ways to be deadly or the reverse mutations (which have an equal probability of happening) could arise.

However, I'm less concerned with Plague as far as random mutations are concerned. ANY bacterium can evolve to become deadly and the soil has a lot of bacteria. We haven't sequenced more than a tiny fraction and so can't possibly get a solid grasp on what bacterium poses the greatest risk. We rely heavily on past behaviour as a guide but evolution doesn't pay much attention to the past. What survives and multiplies is what does well today.

I wouldn't say you were panic-mongering - most virologists and bacteriologists study mutations for precisely the reason you give.

Re:Nice.... (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#37720294)

No, what is interesting, according to TFA is that

The bacterium that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, is still highly virulent today but has different symptoms, leading some historians to doubt that it was the agent of the Black Death.

Those doubts were laid to rest last year by detection of the bacterium’s DNA in plague victims from mass graves across Europe. With the full genome now in hand, the researchers hope to recreate the microbe itself so as to understand what made the Black Death outbreak so deadly.

So far, the evidence points more toward the conditions of the time than to properties of the bacterium itself. The genome recovered from the East Smithfield victims is remarkably similar to that of the present-day bacterium, says the research team, led by Kirsten I. Bos of McMaster University in Ontario and Johannes Krause of the University of Tübingen in Germany.

So the bug is pretty much the same genetically and presumably biologically. What is likely different is the host. At the time of the Black Death there was widespread famine. It is certainly plausible that Y. pestis is much more pathologic in a weak, starving host living in awful non hygienic circumstances. This is a testable hypothesis but hopefully no one is ever going to do that experiment.

Re:Nice.... (1)

budgenator (254554) | about 3 years ago | (#37720664)

At the time of the Black Death there was widespread famine. It is certainly plausible that Y. pestis is much more pathologic in a weak, starving host living in awful non hygienic circumstances. This is a testable hypothesis but hopefully no one is ever going to do that experiment.

Pretty much sounds like East Africa today.

Re:Nice.... (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 3 years ago | (#37720740)

Good luck getting ethics board approval for infecting a bunch of East African to see what happens.

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722036)

Good luck proving it was intentional.

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722090)

We should be green lit by Tuesday.

Re:Nice.... (1)

budgenator (254554) | about 3 years ago | (#37723530)

I hope you don't think that I was suggesting that someone should release plague in East Africa on purpose but i was pointing out how potentially devastating a natural out-break would likely be.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about 3 years ago | (#37724122)

Good luck getting ethics board approval for infecting a bunch of East African to see what happens.

Whatever you say, dude! As if the kind of people (eugenicists and their NWO ilk) capable of pulling such an atrocious stunt - as they've consistently shown themselves - would run it by an ethics board first. ROFL!

Seriously, drink your kool-aid (ahem... flouridated [greaterthings.com] tap water [truth11.com] ) and be sure not to visit this page [shirleys-w...s-cafe.com] .

Go on, take the blue pill; trust me, it's a lot less disturbing...

Re:Nice.... (1)

adolf (21054) | about 3 years ago | (#37722134)

This is a testable hypothesis but hopefully no one is ever going to do that experiment.

If only the Nazis had won the war, such experimentation would be a foregone conclusion.

(And Godwin [wikipedia.org] wins again, perhaps in record time.)

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37725570)

In a slight stretch, they already did the experiment.

They gathered several million people in unsanitary conditions and starved them and yet (to the best of my knowledge) they never saw any outbreaks of The Plague in the concentrations camps. Presumably the bacterium was still present in environment all over Eastern Europe at the time so they should have been exposed to it.

And they had control groups of reasonably clean and well feed people in the same areas.

If we can just show for certain that both groups were exposed then the experiment has already been done.

Re:Nice.... (1)

jd (1658) | about 3 years ago | (#37727748)

They were planning on using biological and chemical weapons as part of their invasion of Britain, so it would have been long before they'd won.

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722432)

What is likely different is the host.

What your quote actually said was:

So far, the evidence points more toward the conditions of the time than to properties of the bacterium itself.

The host was no more different than the bacterium was, genetically and biologically. Less so, I would guess, bacteria reproduce and evolve faster than big things like us do. The conditions in which host and bacterium interact (things like nutrition, hygiene, healthcare) also play their part in determining the outcome, and those have changed a lot.

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722970)

Part of what's interesting about this (poorly reported by slashdot) finding is that we don't really know why it was worse than plague today. A now rejected hypothesis is that the plague of yore was significantly different genetically. These initial reports seem to indicate that we should look elsewhere for an answer. You can hypothesize that this was the result of hygiene, but it's also possible that humanity actually evolved. When you kill a third of your population and then have multiple other waves with significant death tallies, there's a strong selection pressure that can very quickly increase the rates of resistant alleles.

Re:Nice.... (1)

jd (1658) | about 3 years ago | (#37727762)

Not necessarily. Genes can become "fossilized" (ie: never get activated, just lie totally dormant) according to the state of junk DNA and the epigenome. As such, it would not require a significant change to have a significant effect. And if the change was indeed in the epigenome, then genetic decoding won't detect it at all.

Re:Nice.... (2)

Fusselwurm (1033286) | about 3 years ago | (#37723126)

It is certainly plausible that Y. pestis is much more pathologic in a weak, starving host living in awful non hygienic circumstances. This is a testable hypothesis but hopefully no one is ever going to do that experiment.

Forget the "starved". The Black Death got people regardless of wealth. In Hamburg for example, 16 of 21 City Council members died - certainly no poor people.

Also, the pest affected different areas quite differently. See this map [wikimedia.org] (green: no or minor occurrences of the Black Death). As far as I can see, the areas unaffected by the pest were not special in any way (not specially poor or uninhabited or anything) as far as my - admittedly small - knowledge goes.

Maybe someone there got the "hygiene" or "quarantaine" thing correctly, though.

Re:Nice.... (1)

turbidostato (878842) | about 3 years ago | (#37723224)

"the areas unaffected by the pest were not special in any way"

They obviously are. The entry point of the Black Death was the Mediterranean basin from the oriental side, Italy and Spanish shores. From there on, its spread is a function of distance, population density and commercial exchanges.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Fusselwurm (1033286) | about 3 years ago | (#37724280)

its spread is a function of distance, population density and commercial exchanges.

Tor the most part, yes. The map I linked, however, says that Milan was relatively unaffected, as was Warsaw, or Brugues. Which were important cities (apart from warsaw, okay ^^)

But, alas, that wikipedia map [wikimedia.org] is most certainly wrong in that those green areas were not unaffected, but only *relatively* less affected areas. Milan had its share of pest deaths, but not as bad as in other cities [militaryhi...online.com] Also, east Germany and Poland actually *were* affected [google.de]

Re:Nice.... (1)

Chonnawonga (1025364) | about 3 years ago | (#37723828)

Mod parent up! The Black Death had no discernable target of rich or poor. It also spread differently in the past: back then it seems to have been airborne, and there are no reports (that's NONE) about mass die-off of rats like we saw in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The kicker is that diseases and their hosts co-evolve. We evolve immunities and tolerances, they evolve new tricks and less of a tendency to kill off their food supply (read: us). The DNA may be remarkably similar between the old and current versions, but that doesn't mean there aren't some key, albeit tiny, differences--just like between humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos.

Oh, and yes, IAAEH (I am an environmental historian).

Re:Nice.... (1)

Fusselwurm (1033286) | about 3 years ago | (#37724548)

Also, the pest affected different areas quite differently. See this map [wikimedia.org]

The Green areas should not be green. Data about mortality rates is incomplete. Large unaffected areas are a myth. http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/211/1/3.full?keytype=ref&ijkey=loGlgExG0zZlz49#F1 [oxfordjournals.org]

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37723344)

Sorry mate that is utter rubbish. There is no evidence of widespread famine in Europe at the time. The last major famine was 1315 - 17 some 30 years before the Black Death although there was a serious cattle pandemic in the 20s or 30s. Theories of mass starvation compounding the pandemic don't cut it.

Interestingly, agricultural production does collapse in the aftermath of the plague which may (or may not) be related to the climate vector mentioned in the Nature paper.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about 3 years ago | (#37723944)

...in a weak, starving host living in awful non hygienic circumstances. This is a testable hypothesis but hopefully no one is ever going to do that experiment.

Your average under-nourished (however greatly overfed) Westerner, complete with their wiped-out intestinal flora (antibiotic, anyone?) and constantly-sterilized environment (care for some hand sanitizer? How about a blast or two from that automatic disinfecting aerosol air-freshener), would seem like the perfect candidate to recreate these conditions: devastating plague, here we come - and be sure to hold the raw garlic (it could greatly skew the results, to say the least)...

Re:Nice.... (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about 3 years ago | (#37725270)

Hooray, someone actually read the article and *didn't* fail the comprehension test. Most comments that I've seen so far show that supposedly intelligent people don't understand that you should read an article and understand it before commenting. (Not a troll, please read my previous comments on this story before modding... although this may be a sad reflection on the current state of /.)

Re:Nice.... (1)

nothousebroken (2481470) | about 3 years ago | (#37720904)

Yes, it's pretty interesting. It's not a simple mutation. The relatively harmless soil bacteria picked up a plasmid (sort of like picking up a viral infection) and dropped a gene. If I remember right, it also rearranged the ordering of several genes on the chromosome. Together, these changes made the bacteria harmful. Calling the plasmid a virus is not technically correct, but it's a decent analogy. A plasmid is a piece of DNA (usually a loop) that "infects" a bacteria. It's not replicated through exactly the same process as the chromosome when a bacteria divides. But, there are processes that cause the plasmid to replicate so that after division both of the resulting cells are "infected" with the plasmid. The plasmid codes for various proteins that help make the bacteria harmful.

Re:Nice.... (1)

HiThere (15173) | about 3 years ago | (#37725068)

It depends on how it spreads. If it can spread better by having the infected party up and ambling around infecting others, then it evolves to reduce the symptoms. This is common. But there are other diseases that spread more effectively by rapidly killing the host, and spreading from the corpse.

There's even at least one that spreads by having the infected party behave in a dangerous manner, in hopes of being eaten by the proper predator. (A cat in the example I'm thinking of. Which can only complete it's life cycle inside a feline.)

So. MOST diseases evolve to be less virulent. But by no means all.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about 3 years ago | (#37725226)

Actually the article suggested that despite the mutations, environmental factors (malnutrition etc) had a greater influence on the outcome of infection.

Re:Nice.... (1)

jd (1658) | about 3 years ago | (#37727802)

Yeah, the difference is I've been reading a lot of the articles on the subject and they all say something slightly different. There was no historically discernible difference between the fatalities in rich and poor, so malnutrition is unlikely to have been a significant influence. That doesn't mean environmental factors weren't a greater influence, it just means that particular factor can be ruled out.

(Actually, the North of England has oral traditions to the effect that well-water protected villages from the Plague. Most likely, the use of properly-dug and properly-maintained wells would have reduced contact between people of different areas, reducing the spread of the disease. With the frequent contamination of wells by villagers, wells weren't any better than rivers.)

Re:Nice.... (2)

gobulin (593783) | about 3 years ago | (#37720240)

This ought to turn out well...

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720992)

Don't forget this: "scientists have believe"

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37721026)

wow, liquid nitrogen! im going right down to my local Ford dealership and demanding one of those new turboprop models! And if they give me the runaround (probably cause i look jewish), ill tell them i read about it on Slashdot, which will get me some SERVICE!

Re:Nice.... (1)

sfm (195458) | about 3 years ago | (#37722066)

So, can we apply for government cash back on this new Ford ?

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37721210)

Seems that an outbreak even today could do severe damage.

Keep in mind orders of magnitude better hygiene, better response and awareness of the cause of the issue, and better ability to treat the symptoms would likely dramatically reduce the rate at which the illness spreads, the morbidity of the symptoms, and quite possibly it may be straight forward to develop a vaccine.

Oh, also it is a bacterium. Dunno why you thought otherwise.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 3 years ago | (#37722806)

Oh, also it is a bacterium. Dunno why you thought otherwise.

Maybe because the article summary says "virus".

How a four line summary can make so many fundamental mistakes is another matter...

Re:Nice.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37723096)

Maybe he's suffering from a bacterial infection of some sort. This anonymous coward believe it to be the case. Honestly that's the most screwed up submission ever.

Re:Nice.... (1)

mikael (484) | about 3 years ago | (#37724022)

Combine that with flea-bites and you would have a real problem. Fleas don't just puncture the skin, they also inject anti-coagulants as well as whatever else they have picked up from whatever else they have bitten. So wounds don't heal and continue to itch.

They are still a problem in some European countries. Some hospitals still insist on giving patients a shower with iodine soap and shampoo before surgery. The side effect is that it temporarily dyes the patient yellow.

Re:Nice.... (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about 3 years ago | (#37725198)

OK, I want to say RTFA... but I doubt it would help. The article indicates that other factors were in play, like malnutrition and poor living conditions. It's effectively indicating that with only 97 'units' of DNA out of 4.6 million altered/mutated/changed since the 'original' Black Death that environmental factors had a far greater influence than has been acknowledged previously. It *is* a bacterium, it *is* relatively easy to combat with anti-biotics.

Rebuild the Plague? (2)

Flyerman (1728812) | about 3 years ago | (#37719864)

I'm sure this will end well.

Re:Rebuild the Plague? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720582)

Here's a little experiment for you.

Find a slashdot article about science. Any article. Don't care whether it's physics, bio, chem, astronomy, or hell, lets include engineering for the sake of completeness.

Find out how many comments are about how the whatever-it-is spells doom for us all, or could go horribly wrong, or some permutation on the same theme. The number of doomsayers will always be greater than zero, and sometimes you won't even have to go past first post.

For a "news for nerds" site, we sure seem to have a lot of technophobes.

Re:Rebuild the Plague? (5, Funny)

ThorGod (456163) | about 3 years ago | (#37720802)

The number of doomsayers will always be greater than zero, and sometimes you won't even have to go past first post.

For a "news for nerds" site, we sure seem to have a lot of technophobes.

Technophobes will be the doom of us all!!!!

Re:Rebuild the Plague? (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#37723136)

For a "news for nerds" site, we sure seem to have a lot of technophobes.

If both have knives, it's pretty hard to get accidentally stabbed.
If both have guns, the risk of a stray bullet is considerable.
If both have grenades, the blast can easily kill you.
If both have nukes, you better make your Hail Mary quick.

I think that most people here realize technology is true neutral. It's not automatically going to be so that the more advanced we are, the more civilized and peaceful we are. It's just a bigger gun that can be used for good and evil. You can for example see this is war, where before you had lines of battle. Now in modern warfare the fighting is everywhere with death raining down from the skies. In fact, we use huge sums on smart weapons to try not killing indiscriminately but it doesn't make up for the sheer force of them. The ratio of civilians to military killed has only gone up. If ever we start WWIII and the nukes start flying it'll be off the charts. Or if we replayed WWII today I'm pretty sure Hitler would go for a bioweapon to match his ideas of racial superiority and make a virus to kill everyone that didn't have the right Aryan markers. Sometimes I'm very happy that people don't have the technology.

Re:Rebuild the Plague? (1)

gijoel (628142) | about 3 years ago | (#37722022)

I hear that. First they'll clone the plague, then they'll open a Black Death theme park. Then some shady bastard will turn off the electric fence in the rain, and then the next thing you know you're being chased through the gift shop by Black Death zombies.

What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37719948)

eom

not RNA, not a virus (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720008)

Yersinia pestis is a bacterium, not a virus. The article clearly describes stitching together DNA, not RNA. Important little details...

Bioweapons potential? (0)

Derling Whirvish (636322) | about 3 years ago | (#37720020)

Burke: "Look, those two specimens are worth millions to the bioweapons division. Now, if you're smart, we can both come out of it as heroes and we'll be set up for life."
Ripley: "You're crazy Burke, you know that? You really think that you can get a dangerous organism like that past ICC quarantine?"
Burke: "How can they impound it if they don't know about it?"

Re:Bioweapons potential? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720330)

Ripley: Oh they *will* know about it, Burke. From me. Just like they'll know that you were responsible for the deaths if 158 colonists here.
Burke: Wait a second...
Ripley: You sent them to that ship.
Burke: You're wrong.
Ripley: I just checked the colony log. Dated 0-6-1-2-7-9, signed Burke, Carter J. You sent them out there and you didn't even warn them. Why didn't you warn them, Burke?
Burke: Okay, look. What if that ship didn't even exist, huh? Did you ever think about that? I didn't know! So now, if I went in and made a major security issue out of it, everybody steps in. Administration steps in, and there are no exclusive rights for anybody; nobody wins. So I made a decision and it was... wrong. It was a bad call, Ripley, it was a bad call.
Ripley: Bad call?
[Ripley grabs Burke by his vest, shoves him against a wall]
Ripley: These people are *dead *,Burke! Don't you have any idea what you have done here? Well, I'm gonna make sure they nail you right to the wall for this! You're not gonna sleaze your way out of this one! Right to the wall!
[Ripley lets go of Burke]
Burke: Ripley...! You know, I... I expected more from you. I thought you'd be smarter than this.
Ripley: I'm happy to disappoint you.

Sorry, couldn't resist...

Re:Bioweapons potential? (1)

harley78 (746436) | about 3 years ago | (#37721600)

ayiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!! (deleted newt scene when dad comes back from prospecting)

Re:Bioweapons potential? (1)

ogdenk (712300) | about 3 years ago | (#37721336)

LOL Black Death hasn't had a chance since we found a certain funky mold. Bioweapons potential probably little to laughable.

I'm sure the stuff in the bioweapons labs would eat Black Death for lunch before promptly turning their attention on your juicy nervous and immune systems before causing you to vomit, defecate, bleed and scream out of every orifice. All of the above. All at once.

The only use I could think of is to generate a 'cillin resistant version of the centuries old classic to help out some poor struggling pharmaceutical companies and doctors. If that ever actually came to be.... god help you if you're one of the lower-middle-class-scum too broke to spend 50% of your salary on insurance and slightly too rich to get MedicAid. But apparently according to some, once they start machine gunning all the mexican terrorists trying to cross the border, our health care costs will go down! They PROMISE!

Re:Bioweapons potential? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722730)

I'm not to sure about the middle-class-scum and the mexican terrorists but where I'm from we have more pigs than humans. The pigs (and poultry as well btw) are administered antibiotics on a massive scale, leading to resistant strains of whatever antibiotics are supposed to counter. So the Black Death may be the weapon of the future after all.

Dear Editors (5, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 3 years ago | (#37720022)

Dear Editors,

A NY Times link that looks like this will always take you to a login page:
http://www.nytimes.com/glogin?URI=http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/science/13plague.html [nytimes.com]

A NY Times link that looks like this should not take you to a login page:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/science/13plague.html [nytimes.com]

Please consider editing the summaries accordingly.

Most Respectfully,
Tubesteak

Re:Dear Editors (1)

mrmeval (662166) | about 3 years ago | (#37720356)

I think that is a fail as both go to a login page. Any /. 'article' which points to NYT is a fail from the start.

Re:Dear Editors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722670)

I think that is a fail as both go to a login page. Any /. 'article' which points to NYT is a fail from the start.

We all know someone with special needs...

link to TFA (1)

Killer Instinct (851436) | about 3 years ago | (#37720050)

TFA here [slashdot.org]

What could possibly go wrong ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720054)

I mean seriously.

ALTERNATE LINK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720268)

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/608093--mac-researchers-unlock-secrets-of-black-death

This was in the paper a couple days ago.

Bacteria (0)

vvaduva (859950) | about 3 years ago | (#37720344)

It was a bacteria not virus that caused it...

Resistance (4, Interesting)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 3 years ago | (#37720376)

It isn't what you have, it's what you don't have--resistance.

Perhaps the recovered virus DNA researchers are looking at is similar to the modern Yersinia pestis because it is the same critter--just somewhat removed in ancestry. It doesn't take many changes in our own biological functions to acquire a resistance to Yersinia pestis. That alone can explain the difference in symptoms between the Black Plague victims and victims of the virus today. There is good evidence that such a thing occurs. Syphilis is a good example.

Syphilis existed in the Old World, before contact with the Americas, but only in a relatively mild form--it was more of a skin condition then anything else. It wasn't until European contact with the area now know as The Guianas, in South America, that the Old World was re-exposed to syphilis--only this time it was a long-lost cousin of syphilis that had changed over the course of time, the time it took for humanity to spread around the globe and carry it into the New World. Europeans had not developed a resistance to this long-lost cousin and suffered horribly. The symptoms were very different from the syphilis they were used to back home--bone deformities that crushed organs and brains and swiftly killed the host. Killing the host is not always a good evolutionary tactic for long-term survival of a species. Not long after this cousin virus was "brought home", Europeans began to develop resistances to this cousin eventually leading to what we have today--a sexually-transmitted disease that rarely kills it's host, and based on past symptoms, is relatively benign. Jared Diamond wrote extensively on the subject.

There is the distinct possibility that it was not merely a matter of us developing a resistance, but rather the syphilis evolving is such a way as to not kill it's host and thereby increase the chance for survival. Maybe that is all that has happened with Yersinia pestis--it stopped killing it's meal-ticket. A trillion trillion syphilis virii can't ALL be wrong.

All of that being said, I think the researchers are trying to find the specific changes in genes that changed the symptoms of the virus--if they can determine that, they can then take that knowledge and attempt to force such changes in other modern virii and possibly lessen, or end altogether, the symptoms of said virii. It is a little like taking two images of a piece of the night sky, a month apart, and looking for what changed--the changes are more apparent when scaled differently in terms of time. These guys are literally digging up past "images" of Yersinia pestis.

Re:Resistance (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 3 years ago | (#37720508)

Syphillis is not viral. It too is bacterial, caused by spirochetes.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syphilis [wikipedia.org]

Re:Resistance (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 3 years ago | (#37721076)

"Syphillis is not viral. It too is bacterial, caused by spirochetes."

I stand corrected.

But, the substance of what I stated is still true--evolutionary changes are result of environmental pressures, regardless of organism, and evolutionary tactics can be shared amongst widely varied organisms. As such, the same mechanics that resulted in syphilis being "re-introduced", and the resulting differences in symptoms could very well be occurring in Yersinia pestis as well. The fact that both organisms share the same host organism, we humans, may very well have something to do with it--syphilis and Yersinia pestis have to deal with almost identical environments. It would make sense that they might share evolutionary tactics.

Re:Resistance (1)

harley78 (746436) | about 3 years ago | (#37721630)

no shit? Biologists are cracking up while eating cheese and drinking beer to these /. comments. At least Bio people know about tech too.

Re:Resistance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722368)

Every dog has its day.

Re:Resistance (1)

jgrahn (181062) | about 3 years ago | (#37722080)

It isn't what you have, it's what you don't have--resistance.

Perhaps the recovered virus DNA researchers are looking at is similar to the modern Yersinia pestis because it is the same critter--just somewhat removed in ancestry. It doesn't take many changes in our own biological functions to acquire a resistance to Yersinia pestis. That alone can explain the difference in symptoms between the Black Plague victims and victims of the virus today.

ISTR a TV documentary where they showed that each plague outbreak (and there have been many, in Europe too) had less and less casualties, probably due to resistance.

mod Down (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37720434)

much 4s Windows funy to be again. completely before

*Golfclap* (1)

idbeholda (2405958) | about 3 years ago | (#37720756)

The Black Plauge was caused by bacteria. Why does the modern variety of it vary in genetic structure, you ask? It's called evolution.

The main discovery (4, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 3 years ago | (#37721186)

The main discovery according to Abbie Smith http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2011/10/black_death_not_initiated_by_a.php [scienceblogs.com] is what DNA this did not contain. There was some speculation that there might be some plasmid (a small circular strand of DNA which bacteria can share with each other or sometimes pick up from the environment) that was making the plague more deadly. This result shows that that wasn't the case. The Black Plague was deadly due to lack of antibiotics, lack of sanitation, and lack of resistance. This means we don't need to be that worried about some sort of super-strain of plague coming back to bite us. It also helps underscore how much basic hygiene and sanitation help in reducing disease.

Re:The main discovery (1)

harley78 (746436) | about 3 years ago | (#37721646)

oh; and the genes were rearranged. Could be important, not sure though.

Black Death and HIV resistance. (1)

Zaldarr (2469168) | about 3 years ago | (#37721512)

This could be very interesting for HIV. There seems to be a genetic link between HIV resistance and the plague. A study of the Black Death's DNA from way back could perhaps shed more light on this phenomenon and how we can use it for potential gene therapy. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050325234239.htm [sciencedaily.com] http://qjmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/99/8/497.full [oxfordjournals.org]

Re:Black Death and HIV resistance. (1)

harley78 (746436) | about 3 years ago | (#37721674)

you're really reaching for karma dude. This wont help with the CCR5-32 mutation at all. We already know everything about the mutation/receptor/why/Y.pestis etc.....No gene therapy for you!

recreating the microbe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37722132)

"researchers hope to recreate the microbe itself so as to understand what made the Black Death outbreak so deadly"

afterall, what could go wrong?

Re:recreating the microbe? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37722732)

So you don't like happy microbes? Or why do you think they should not get any recreation? :-)

a movie? (1)

pbjones (315127) | about 3 years ago | (#37722406)

I have never been comfortable with this sort of thing. It may be that I've seen too many movies.

Not a virus (1)

Scythal (1488949) | about 3 years ago | (#37722612)

"Scientists have recovered the RNA of the virus that caused the plague by digging through an English mass grave, and compiling [from several partial examples] the genetics of the virus. Though the plague still persists, scientists have believe the ancient strain was different due to a different onset of symptoms."

You want to correct that, it is a bacteria and not a virus (you can find this in the very article you mention).

Re:Not a virus (1)

Scythal (1488949) | about 3 years ago | (#37722616)

Nor is it an RNA, by the way...

The ones who survived it are less effected (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37724070)

Anyone who survived the black death and passed on their genes to modern humans was obviously not in the most vulnerable group. The most vulnerable group died off when this occurred. So gee, I wonder why it's not as terrible today?

It's like spraying pesticides; after a while you breed pesticide-resistant pests.

No RNA! Not a virus! (1)

elmohound (1229996) | about 3 years ago | (#37726190)

While the poster cites a very interesting article, the original posting contains two glaring errors. Specifically, the paper describes sequencing the genomic and plasmid DNA of the a specific strain of the species Yersinia pestis (a reasonably close relative of the 'dreaded' E. coli, BTW). So, no RNA! Not a Virus! The Nature paper, itself, uses currently conventional methods and draws very plausible conclusions based on our knowledge of Enterobacterial evolution. A review of the Yersinia literature shows that there is believed to be an association between various historical plague outbreaks and the certain characteristic changes in DNA sequence. It is not clear, however, that any of these genetic markers reflect changes in virulence. Finally, we don't have to recover plague from old graves to get virulent strains Y. pestis, since they are still thriving in certain parts of the world to day. For example in the four corners region of the USA. I've taken a look at Abbie Smith's blog and sense some confusion leading to the conclusions that she draws. For sure, we know that some of the plasmids contain virulence factors relate to the disease. It is a demonstrable fact. The nature paper just reports that there was difficulty isolating and sequencing pPCP1 to a reasonable level of coverage.
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