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Report: NAU scientists trace plague that wiped out Rome

PHOENIX — Northern Arizona University scientists have reportedly discovered the source of a plague that wiped out millions of people in ancient Rome about 1,500 years ago.

According to National Public Radio, the scientists were able to trace the plague’s DNA from that leftover in the teeth of it’s victims.

“Some of the estimates are that up to 50 million people died,” says evolutionary biologist David Wagner at Northern Arizona University. “It’s thought that the Justinian plague actually led partially to the downfall of the Roman Empire.”

Wagner and his team believe the source of the Justinian plague is not the same as the one that caused the Black Death in the 14th Century, which was transmitted by fleas, but instead a bacteria strain that jumped from rodent to human before dying out.

The DNA also led Wagner’s team to believe the plague originated in China, the same location as the Black Death.

The Justinian plague went around in 541, claiming victims in Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Historians said it was so rampant people wore name tags in case they passed suddenly and thousands were buried in mass graves.

The study was sparked after the remains of several plague victims were disinterred near Munich by a housing developer. Their DNA, containing that of the Justinian plague, was extracted from dental pulp.