The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague pandemic killed between 75-200 million people in Europe between 1346-1353. This pandemic is still being studied as to this day as to why some people survived and others did not. Researchers have dug up remains from those who passed away from the disease. They were able to identify four genes involved in the production of immune system proteins that either protected or made someone susceptible to the plague. Researchers did this by recovering remains of people who died before the plague, survived the plague, or died from the plague. The results of this endeavor were that people who carried the ERAP2 gene were 40-50% more likely to survive than others who did not carry the gene. This gene was able to neutralize the Yersinia pestis bacterium that caused the illness. However, researchers have noted that having this gene today could mean that you could have an increased risk of having an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.
To that end, this study further proves that survival during a pandemic is likely determined by what genes you may or may not have. With gene alterations and repairs starting to now become a reality, it will be interesting to see if future generations alter their offspring’s genes to give them a better chance of surviving various diseases.