Saturday, 22 Sep 2018

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Red squirrels brought medieval leprosy: Scientists

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Health Desk-- 14 May, 2018: Scientists have said red squirrels may have brought leprosy to Britain more than 1,000 years ago.

DNA taken from a fifth-century victim of the disease in Essex revealed the same strain of leprosy carried by red squirrels today, Swiss researchers said. The discovery supports the theory that the rodents, once prized for their meat and fur, played a role in the spread of the disease throughout medieval Europe, they added.

From the fragments they reconstructed 10 new genomes - complete genetic codes - of medieval Mycobacterium leprae, the bug that causes leprosy.

One was from Great Chesterford, Essex, and dated to between AD415 and AD545. It was this leprosy genome, the oldest yet constructed that contained the red squirrel clue.