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A 20-million-year-old flea, preserved in amber, is potentially holding an ancestral strain of the Black Death, one of the world’s deadliest pandemics in human history. The infamous plague claimed the lives of 75-200 million people before peaking in Europe during the mid-14th century.

According to researchers in a new study, now published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, the bacteria is believed to be an ancient strain of Yersinia pestis, a bacillus that was carried by fleas on rats. The bacteria were discovered on the proboscis of the old flea, as well as in the flea’s rectum.

"Aside from physical characteristics of the fossil bacteria that are similar to plaguebacteria, their location in the rectum of the flea is known to occur in modern plague bacteria," said George Poinar, one of the researchers, in a news release. "And in this fossil, the presence of similar bacteria in a dried droplet on the proboscis of the flea is consistent with the method of transmission of plague bacteria by modern fleas." …show more content…
Although scientists are not 100 percent certain of the relationship between the bacteria and Yersinia pestis, a close examination of the find suggests that they are indeed related. The bacteria on the flea has features that match the modern forms of the bubonic plaguebacteria, which can be characterized by their unique

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