The Black Death, or the Bubonic Plague is by far one of the most talked-about epidemics that has ever existed here on Earth. While it might have happened hundreds of years ago, in a time when things were not just significantly different, but life was quite literally the polar opposite of what we experience today – the results were nonetheless catastrophic. The Centers for Disease Control has come up with some new research, which reveals just what happened to make an illness that was otherwise a harmless stomach bug, into a disease that wiped out 60% of Europe’s population.

Wyndham Lathem led the research from Northwestern University and what the team found was that there were significant events that happened inside of people that actually made the Black Death the true killer that it eventually morphed into. The research found that it all came down to the protein known as the Pla protein. Before the Black Death had this particular protein working for it, the disease wasn’t able to colonize inside the lungs. This would be when the disease would cause severe lung infection, thusly killing the individual who had acquired the fatal illness.

Black death

The team found that it came down to Y. Pestis, or the Black Plague acquiring this protein. The team said in their study that, “We were able to test if these pre-Pla strains were able to cause pneumonic plague – and they did not. But as soon as Y. pestis picked up this gene, the bacteria could cause epidemics of pneumonic plague.” However, the team went on to point out that, “No further changes were necessary, even though there are dozens of additional differences between these ancestral strains and modern Y. pestis. So Y. pestis was able to cause pneumonic plague much earlier in its history than had previously been thought – as soon as it acquired this single gene for Pla.”

Must Read: Black Death was relatively harmless until it wiped out 60% of Europe’s population

This is significant because it changes the timeline that the Black Plague actually worked on. Under the current presumptions, this opens the door for additional research and additional information on what might have triggered this sudden change or evolution of the disease. The Black Plague was one of the deadliest diseases that ever made it around the Earth, and despite the fact that there was little medical technology to treat such a violent infection, there could be more to learn today.

The team also pointed out that without this particular strain, or strength, the illness wouldn’t have been the killing machine that it became in Europe. While rodents, mosquitos and other small vermin carried it the Black Death was this deadly for a good chunk of its 5,000 to 10,000 year lifespan, which gave it the ability to infect the lungs. This single lung infection trait, essentially gave it the killing power of massive armies. There was also the issue of extreme filth during these days, as most people, even the wealthiest, lived in relative squalor to todays standards.