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Smallpox: New research reveals diverse strains prevalent during the Viking era


A study of DNA sampled from a Viking skeleton found that the presence of 11 smallpox in Northern Europe (now Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the United Kingdom) is between 600 and 1050 AD.

“The 1400-year-old genetic information extracted from these skeletons is very important because it tells us about the evolutionary history of the smallpox virus that caused smallpox,” Professor Eske Willerslev of Cambridge University and GeoGenetics of Copenhagen University. Director’s Center of Release said.

As Covid-19 is raging around the world, learning about ancient fashions gives us some perspective. Like us, Vikings also engaged in long-distance travel and commerce.

“We already knew that the Vikings were moving across Europe. And now we know that the Vikings have smallpox.”

“People traveling the world could quickly spread Covid-19 and the Vikings spread smallpox, at which time they traveled by boat rather than by plane,” he added.

Smallpox killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone. Illness caused by Variola virusCover the body with painful wounds. It was declared eradicated in 1980 after the global vaccination campaign launched in 1967. World Health Organization..
In this study, scientists found that four viral genomes could be reconstructed from a sample, and that the structures of these viruses were vastly different compared to modern strains. Extinct viruses are currently forming a group, or Clade, Of my own.

“What’s really exciting about this is that we can use these reconstructed genomes to track the steps these viruses and other pathogens took to get the disease they became,” GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. I told CNN.

Push back the earliest infection records 1000 years ago

Historical explanations suggest that smallpox was more than about 3,500 years old, but there are many uncertainties that DNA sequencing may be helpful in elucidating.

“Before the rise of sequencing, there are long historical records of disease outbreaks, some of which sound like smallpox,” the co-author of the study, a virus of computational biologist and Charite at the University of Cambridge I told CNN at Terry Jones Berlin at the Institute of Science.

“The more you go back in time, the less certainty you have,” he added.

In particular, Jones claimed that diseases such as chickenpox and measles were difficult to distinguish from smallpox, and he had little understanding of these differences before 900.

Thanks to this research, “in terms of specific knowledge about the presence of the virus, we are now back at around 600 AD.”

New evidence is intended to counter previous theory that smallpox may have been introduced from Spain to Europe during the Moorish invasion, by returning the Crusades, or by the Normans via England. is.

Civil War era smallpox vaccination kit provides new insights on how the virus was eradicated

The study said Sikora that smallpox was already present in Europe during the Viking era and that it “really spread.”

Eleven Viking Age people who tested positive for smallpox were part of a larger sample of 500 with a 2% positive rate.

On the basis of that percentage, she explained, “It can be considered that smallpox was already endemic throughout Europe by at least that time, if not at least before.”

“It’s really direct evidence of the kind that only ancient DNA can give you,” he added.

New virus strain discovered

Scientists have been able to reconstruct four nearly complete genomes of ancient smallpox strains. These strains differ significantly from the more recent smallpox genome.

These ancient strains belong to their own clades in terms of their genetic structure.

“It’s an ancestor, the clade, but it’s not a direct ancestor of smallpox,” Barbara Mulemann told CNN. She was the first author of the study and participated in the study while earning her PhD from the University of Cambridge. Muhlemann is currently based at the Virus Research Institute in Charite, Berlin.

As the virus evolves and functions better in the host, some viral genes, be it animal or human, undergo a process of inactivation. That is, the switch is turned off. Some inactive genes of the Viking Age virus are still active in modern smallpox, Muhlmann explained.

“They can’t be direct ancestors in a straight line. They are like side branches,” added Mulemann.

Humans may have arrived in North America much earlier than was believed

Although the Viking Age virus is extinct, it still does not reduce its appeal. Unlike the pattern of known smallpox viruses, the pattern of gene inactivation provides important points.

“We now know that there are other gene combinations that can cause viruses to function in humans, be transmissible, and have other properties,” Jones said. I told him.

This insight could not have been gathered from the smallpox genome known to scientists.

“Knowledge from the past can protect us in the present. It doesn’t come back when an animal or plant becomes extinct. But mutations can occur again, come back, The virus can mutate or spill from animal storage, another zoonotic disease, a disease caused by a virus that has jumped from an animal host to a human host,” Jones said in a release. Stated.

According to Jones, the newly discovered ancient strains are likely to be as epidemic as the smallpox strains we are familiar with in modern history, Jones said. Almost certainly quotes that the strains of C. elegans originate from a common ancestor that precedes them all.

“Given that other viruses were still present in the 20th century, there must have been some form of virus in the Viking era, but the genes were probably intact, Jones told CNN. It was

“But I don’t know which host they were on. Most people just think they’re in humans, but maybe not,” Jones said. I added.

Find smallpox with ancient teeth

11 Did individuals in the Viking era actually die of smallpox? That question remains unresolved.

“We tried to be careful to say that these individuals died of smallpox because they didn’t know. Trauma, maybe there was murder. It could have been something else we didn’t know. Maybe,” Mulemann told CNN.

According to Sikora, scientists believe that there must have been some infection at the time of his death so that he could actually find the viral DNA in his body, especially his teeth.

“The viral genes are so small that there isn’t much DNA unless the individual has large numbers of copies of that DNA,” Sikora explained.

“I don’t think it can be derived from a mixture of DNA extracted from teeth buried 1000 years ago,” he added.

Scientists do not believe that smallpox was the cause of death for one of the individuals who had a sting on their back discovered in what appears to be the massacre site in Oxford, England.

From the history of smallpox to the coronavirus

The results of this study have given researchers hope for the future and motivated them to learn more about the viral genome.

“The past 40 to 50 years have been very quiet for us, because we have made tremendous progress in medical research, in the combination of vaccines and antibiotics,” Sycola says of the viral pandemic. I talked about the outbreak.

“The eradication of smallpox gives us hope for the current situation,” Mulemann told CNN, stressing that she could eradicate this deadly disease through vaccination.

“I think it shows what we can do,” she said.


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