Genomic blueprint of a relapsing fever pathogen in 15th century Scandinavia
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2018, 115 (41), 10422-10427. 10.1073/pnas.1807266115
Louse-borne relapsing fever (LBRF) is known to have killed millions of people over the course of European history and remains a major cause of mortality in parts of the world. Its pathogen, Borrelia recurrentis, shares a common vector with global killers such as typhus and plague and is known for its involvement in devastating historical epidemics such as the Irish potato famine. Here, we describe a European and historical genome of B. recurrentis, recovered from a 15th century skeleton from Oslo. Our distinct European lineage has a discrete genomic makeup, displaying an ancestral oppA1 gene and gene loss in antigenic variation sites. Our results illustrate the potential of ancient DNA research to elucidate dynamics of reductive evolution in a specialized human pathogen and to uncover aspects of human health usually invisible to the archaeological record.