The Black Death

Richard Van Frank vanfrank at
Mon Nov 18 09:31:30 EST 1996

In article <E0yMs1.K6v at>,
   ecoli at ("K N and P J Harris") wrote:
>> ==========
>> bionet/microbiology #4284, from sb34 at, 2136 chars, 10 Nov 
>1996 06:35:23 -0
>> ----------
>> Article: 5285 of bionet.microbiology
>> Path: 
>> 4
>> From: sb34 at (Sidsel Barfoed)
>> Newsgroups: bionet.microbiology
>> Subject: The Black Death
>> Date: 10 Nov 1996 06:35:23 -0800
>> Organization: BIOSCI International Newsgroups for Molecular Biology
>> Lines: 34
>> Sender: daemon at
>> Distribution: world
>> Message-ID: <ECS9611101443A at>
>> NNTP-Posting-Host:
>>    I have taken the liberty of subscribing to your list even though I 
>am not a microbiologist. 
>>    My name is Sidsel Barfoed, I am a postgraduate student at the 
>Department of History, the University 
>> of York, Great Britain. I am writing a dissertation on the Black Death 
>in England 1348-50 seen from an
>> epidemiogical point of view.
>>   Too many historians use epidemiological data from the turn of the 
>century, and I would like to bring 
>> the subject a bit more up to date.
>>   I allow myself to ask you the following questions:
>> 1. Can mutations of Yersinia Pestis take place spontaneously in the 
>wild? If so, how long would it take 
>> for a mutation to establish itself? I am referring to the following 
>> - R. Rosquist et al., "Increased Virulence of Yersinia 
>pseudotuberculosis by two independent 
>> Mutations" (Nature, 1988, 11. August, pp. 522-525)
>> - B. J. Hinnebusch et al., "Role of the Yersinia pestis Hemin Storage 
>(hms) Locus in the Transmission
>> of plague by Fleas" (Science, 1996, vol. 273, 19 July,pp. 367-370)
>> 2. According to R. Rosquist et al. Y. pestis has mutated at some point 
>of time, thereby increasing its 
>> virulence. Is there any way of determining when this mutation took 

I think there is another factor you should consider, that is the resistance of 
the host population. Were conditions such in England at that time that you had a 
highly suseptable population. This could have been due to many factors such as 
living conditions, nutrition etc. etc. A mutation may not have been necessary to 
start an epidemic.

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