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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2005 Jan;126(1):48-55.

Detection of Yersinia pestis DNA in two early medieval skeletal finds from Aschheim (Upper Bavaria, 6th century A.D.).

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Department of Biology I, Biodiversity Research/Anthropology, Ludwig-Maximilian-University, 80333 Munich, Germany. <>


In the course of a molecular genetic investigation of a double inhumation, presumably a mother/child burial from Aschheim (Upper Bavaria, 6th century A.D.), which included analysis of mitochondrial DNA, molecular sexing, and polymorphic nuclear DNA, Yersinia pestis-specific DNA was detected. Molecular analyses were performed on DNA extracts obtained from two teeth of one skeleton and four teeth of the other. The use of the primer pair YP12D/YP11R (Raoult et al. [2000] Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 97:12800-12803), able to amplify part of the Y. pestis plasmid pPCP1 pla sequence, resulted in amplification products of the expected fragment size. Using BLASTN 2.2.2, the sequences of these amplification products shared 100% identity with that of the modern Y. pestis pla sequence in GenBank, with the exception of one amplification product which revealed a single base substitution. The application of a "suicide PCR" with the independent primer pair YP11D/YP10R (Raoult et al. [2000] Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 97:12800-12803) resulted in amplification products which shared a 96-98% homology with that of the modern Y. pestis pla sequence in GenBank. The observed deviations were presumably due to miscoding lesions in the template DNA. No modern Y. pestis DNA was introduced into the institute, and thus no positive controls were carried along. All extraction and PCR controls remained negative. The identification of Y. pestis-specific DNA sequences in these two skeletons, buried in the second half of the 6th century A.D., constitutes molecularly supported evidence for the presence of Y. pestis, the causative agent of plague, during the first pandemic recorded.

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