- Not Exactly Rocket Science
Pocket Science: plague-running mice, and how to watch mutations in real time
The bacterium behind bubonic plague – Yersinia pestis – has a notorious track record for massacring humans, creating at least three major pandemics including the Black Death of the 14th century. But it’s mainly a disease of rodents and it regularly infects the black-tailed prairie dogs of North America. It’s an enigmatic killer. It will remain relatively silent for years before suddenly exploding into an epidemic that kills nearly all the prairie dogs in infected colonies within a few weeks. Now Daniel Sakeld from Stanford University has found the culprit behind these lurk-and-kill cycles – the tiny grasshopper mouse.
Prairie dog colonies, and their diseases, are generally isolated from one another. Even though Yersinia is very