[Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, full page: (LINK). Abstract, edited.]
Ancient Yersinia pestis genomes from across Western Europe reveal early diversification during the First Pandemic (541–750)
Marcel Keller, Maria A. Spyrou, Christiana L. Scheib, Gunnar U. Neumann, Andreas Kröpelin, Brigitte Haas-Gebhard, Bernd Päffgen, Jochen Haberstroh, Albert Ribera i Lacomba, Claude Raynaud, Craig Cessford, Raphaël Durand, Peter Stadler, Kathrin Nägele, Jessica S. Bates, Bernd Trautmann, Sarah A. Inskip, Joris Peters, John E. Robb, Toomas Kivisild, Dominique Castex, Michael McCormick, Kirsten I. Bos, Michaela Harbeck, Alexander Herbig, and Johannes Krause
PNAS first published June 4, 2019 / DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1820447116
Edited by Nils Chr. Stenseth, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, and approved May 9, 2019 (received for review November 30, 2018)
The first historically reported pandemic attributed to Yersinia pestis started with the Justinianic Plague (541–544) and continued for around 200 y as the so-called First Pandemic. To date, only one Y. pestis strain from this pandemic has been reconstructed using ancient DNA. In this study, we present eight genomes from Britain, France, Germany, and Spain, demonstrating the geographic range of plague during the First Pandemic and showing microdiversity in the Early Medieval Period. Moreover, we detect similar genome decay during the First and Second Pandemics (14th to 18th century) that includes the same two virulence factors, thus providing an example of potential convergent evolution of Y. pestis during large-scale epidemics.
The first historically documented pandemic caused by Yersinia pestis began as the Justinianic Plague in 541 within the Roman Empire and continued as the so-called First Pandemic until 750. Although paleogenomic studies have previously identified the causative agent as Y. pestis, little is known about the bacterium’s spread, diversity, and genetic history over the course of the pandemic. To elucidate the microevolution of the bacterium during this time period, we screened human remains from 21 sites in Austria, Britain, Germany, France, and Spain for Y. pestis DNA and reconstructed eight genomes. We present a methodological approach assessing single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in ancient bacterial genomes, facilitating qualitative analyses of low coverage genomes from a metagenomic background. Phylogenetic analysis on the eight reconstructed genomes reveals the existence of previously undocumented Y. pestis diversity during the sixth to eighth centuries, and provides evidence for the presence of multiple distinct Y. pestis strains in Europe. We offer genetic evidence for the presence of the Justinianic Plague in the British Isles, previously only hypothesized from ambiguous documentary accounts, as well as the parallel occurrence of multiple derived strains in central and southern France, Spain, and southern Germany. Four of the reported strains form a polytomy similar to others seen across the Y. pestis phylogeny, associated with the Second and Third Pandemics. We identified a deletion of a 45-kb genomic region in the most recent First Pandemic strains affecting two virulence factors, intriguingly overlapping with a deletion found in 17th- to 18th-century genomes of the Second Pandemic.
Justinianic Plague – ancient DNA – bacterial evolution – Anglo-Saxons – Merovingians
Keywords: Yersinia pestis; Plague.