The Black Death

The Plague: Birth of a Killer is the title of Brian Thomas’ latest DpSU. Naturally it is about the reason why the plague bacteria kill people, considering how wonderful God is. something about the fall? Excuse me while I grab a nice, red, juicy apple…

Yersinia pestis, the bacteria believed to be responcible for the plague

For some background the Black Death is believed to have been caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis (pictured above). There has been some doubt about this in the past, but more recent research seems to have vindicated the original hypothesis. A recent study, not mentioned in this DpSU, apparently showed that the strain of Y. pestis that caused the Black Death is now extinct. Nevertheless, the species survives to this day, producing plagues of its own on a reasonably regular basis, although intriguingly in a different pattern to the original plagues.

Anyway, so a new study, which (among other things) compared the genome of Y. pestis with that of the closely related Y. pseudotuberculosis, found that:

[T]he Y. pestis species was missing six sRNAs that Y. pseudotuberculosis possesses. Further, these six sRNAs regulate the production of proteins that help enable the bacteria to cause disease.

Mr Thomas wishes to argue that the reason why Y. pestis is virulent (and Y. pseudotuberculosis is not) is that it has lost information and denegrated since, and as a result of, The Fall.

Could a loss of important sRNAs in an ancient population of Y. pseudotuberculosis have led to Y. pestis and the plague? If so, this would again demonstrate that disease-causing germs resulted not from direct creation or Darwinian evolution, but rather from the sin-cursed condition of this world, in which all living systems are subject to corruption and decay.

For one thing, I fail to see how all this rules out evolution at all.* More importantly, we have the problem that the study itself does not seem to agree with Mr Thomas’ conclusions.

This is PNAS, which means that I can only see the abstract if, like today, nobody has posted the pdf of the paper else-ware on the net. However, the abstract is usually the most (important-)information-dense part of a paper, and summarises the whole thing. I don’t think that it is particularly likely that the first line of the part I can’t see begins: “Fooled ya! We actually mean the complete opposite to what you just read.” Here, then, is an important sentance from the abstract, bold by me:

Deletion of multiple sRNAs in Y. pseudotuberculosis leads to attenuation of the pathogen in a mouse model of yersiniosis, as does the inactivation in Y. pestis of a conserved, Yersinia-specific sRNA in a mouse model of pneumonic plague.

In short, even if the removal of some of the sRNAs studied causes virulence, there are other things that, when they are removed, reduce the danger of the bacteria. This at very least implies that the ‘decay from the Fall’ had to add things to the Y. pestis genome to get it to kill people. I’d certainly say that there is at least as much evidence for that in this study than there is for B.T.’s idea.

Where does that leave us? With the concluding statement already lying in tatters, I would say:

Thus, according to the evidence, Yersinia was originally well-created as a useful soil and gut bacteria, but some of the formerly precise mechanisms appear to have broken down in Y. pestis. The intricate cell-host communication systems were marred after sin entered the world through Adam, resulting in pathogenic instead of beneficial bacteria.

So I’ll just end it now, I think…

I’d call this a Type AE: Misrepresented Study.

And before you ask, it was a very nice apple, thank you.

*Of course, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that an omnipotent, omniscient, and, above all, omnidickish Creator couldn’t have created Y. pestis as is, while making it look like it was evolved/denigrated. It is also impossible to rule out the possibility that He did it all just last Thursday.


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