Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Black Death Genes and Increasing Autoimmune Disorders


 Genes that once protected our bodies during the Black Death, may now be increasing autoimmune disorders...

    An article from Harvard Medical School (HMS) details how genes that once protected our bodies during the Black Death in the 14th century, may now be increasing the prevalence of autoimmune diseases. Researchers have extracted the DNA of people who died during the time of the Black Death, and are using that to compare against the DNA of those who have lived through the COVID-19 pandemic (our time). From this data, they were able to deduce the fact that survivors of each pandemic carried genes that made them immune to the disease. This makes sense, considering the "survival of the fittest" philosophy introduced by Darwin, and due to evolutionary circumstances, it would make sense that those who survived one instance of a deadly disease could presumably survive another. The bacterium Yersinia pestis was known to cause the Black Death as it spread from animals to humans, and plays a role now, centuries later. The relevance comes into play with autoimmune disorders: those alive during our time with autoimmune diseases are more likely to carry those same infection-fighting genes that helped people survive the Black Death -- crazy right?

    This was a very fascinating article and it is interesting to see how the genes have been passed on evolutionarily through time. Not only that, but the human body has me awestruck. The things that it is capable of, such as passing on these genes that can prevent disease is so interesting to me. Furthermore, as someone with an autoimmune disease, I can't help but to wonder if I carry these same genes as well. I think it would be really fascinating to have my DNA extracted and compared to that of someone who survived the time of the Black Death, that way I could truly see if I am impacted by this phenomena. Selective pressures and immunity are quite interesting to me and I could see myself taking a deeper look into this topic in the future!


1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/genes-protective-during-the-black-death-may-now-be-increasing-autoimmune-disorders-202212012859 

2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-05349-x

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