☛ Ancient DNA traces origin of Black Death

A Silk Road stopover might have been the epicentre of one of humanity’s most destructive pandemics.

People who died in a fourteenth-century outbreak in what is now Kyrgyzstan were killed by strains of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis that gave rise to the pathogens responsible several years later for the Black Death, shows a study of ancient genomes.

“It is like finding the place where all the strains come together, like with coronavirus where we have Alpha, Delta, Omicron all coming from this strain in Wuhan,” says Johannes Krause, a palaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who co-led the study, published on 15 June in Nature.

Fascinating read on new research on the origins of Black Death. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy task to find genomic data from the plague bacteria, several centuries after the pandemic. Then, like now, how the pandemic spread mattered quite a lot of how and where a lot of humans came together and then dispersed, carrying the deadly disease with them.

☛ Radiolab Podcast: Using flickering lights to treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Today, a startling new discovery: prodding the brain with light, a group of scientists got an unexpected surprise – they were able to turn back on a part of the brain that had been shut down by Alzheimer’s disease. This new science is not a cure, and is far from a treatment, but it’s a finding so … simple, you won’t be able to shake it. Come join us for a lab visit, where we’ll meet some mice, stare at some light, and come face-to-face with the mystery of memory. We can promise you: by the end, you’ll never think the same way about Christmas lights again.

I’ve been meaning to post about this particular episode ever since I listened to it. This is the Nature paper about this study. They found that simply flashing light of a certain frequency at a certain interval helps with some of the brain waves that are diminished in mice with Alzheimer’s. It’s absolutely fascinating.

(I’m not going into too much technical jargon here; go listen to the episode!)

If you don’t listen to Radiolab in general, you definitely should; it’s one of the best podcasts there are.