The Bubonic Plague is Alive and Well

Written by  on March 8, 2014

When we think of the plague, we imagine ages gone by, the middle ages in particular, safely contained inside the texts of detailed accounts in history books. Most of us don’t associate the plague with current times, but the truth is 10 to 20 people in the United States contract plague each year. In fact, infected mice  from a lab in New Jersey escaped in 2005 and have never been found.

In the news recently, we are warned of an increased risk of ancient diseases thawing back into existence; the Bubonic plague being one. An example is a 30,000 year old virus that has been brought back to life from its Siberian permafrost tomb. Scientist believe  that we could be vulnerable to more of these frozen enemies as climate change thaws out our planet.


The Black Death

Written by  on March 8, 2014


430 B.C.- During the second year of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides writes about a disease that is believed to have been the Plague

540 A.D.- An outbreak of Plague occurs at Pelusium, Egypt.

542 A.D.- Plague reaches Constantinople.

1334- Plague occurs in Constantinople

1339-1346- The famine occurs. This goes on for seven years and is known as “the famine before the plague.”

1347- The Black Plague began spreading through Western Europe

Fall 1347- Reports of the plague are recorded in Alexandria, Cyprus, and Sicily.

Winter 1347- Plague then reaches Italy.

Jan. 1348- Next, the plague reaches France and Germany.

1349- 1/3 of the population in Western Europe was dead from the plague. That is roughly 25 million people.

May 1349- It then reaches Norway.

1350- Afterwards the plague reaches Eastern Europe. More specifically, it reaches London, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

1351- The plague reaches Russia.

1353- Giovanni Boccaccio finishes writing The Decameron, a fictional narrative that opens with a description of the 1348 outbreak of Black Death in Florence, Italy.

March 1665- The Great Plague of London begins, and 43 people died by May.

June 1665- 6,137 people die by June.

July 1665- 17,036 people die by July.

Aug. 1665- 31,159 people die by August.

1666- The Great Fire of London destroys most of the rats and fleas that carry the plague bacillus.

1679- The plague devastates central Europe.

1711- Plague breaks out in Austria.

1722- Daniel Defoe publishes A Journal of the Plague Year, a fictional recounting of the great Plague of London in 1665.

1770- The Balkans battle the Plague for two years.

1877: The pandemic starts up again and flares up in Russia, China, and India.

1889: The Pandemic begins to near an end.

1894: Working independently, bacteriologists Alexandre Yersin and Shibasaburo Kitasato both isolate the bacterium that causes the Black Death. Yersin discovers that rodents are the mode of infection. The bacterium is named Yersina Pestis after Yersin.

1896: The pandemic in China and India is over.

1947: Albert Camus publishes The Plague, a novel about a fictional outbreak of plague in Oran, Algeria.

Sept. 2005: Three mice infected with Bubonic Plague disappear from a laboratory at the Public Health Research Institute in New Jersey.


How World War One Started and the Timeline That Followed

Written by  on February 25, 2014

June 28th

Francis Ferdinand assassinated at Sarajevo

July 5th

Kaiser William II promised German support for Austria against Serbia

July 28th

Austria declared war on Serbia

August 1st

Germany declared war on Russia

August 3rd

Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium. Germany had to implement the Schlieffen Plan.

August 4th

Britain declared war on Germany

August 23rd

The BEF started its retreat from Mons. Germany invaded France.

August 26th

Russian army defeated at Tannenburg and Masurian Lakes.

September 6th

Battle of the Marne started

October 18th

First Battle of Ypres

October 29th

Turkey entered the war on Germany’s side. Trench warfare started to dominate the Western Front.


January 19th

The first Zeppelin raid on Britain took place

February 19th

Britain bombarded Turkish forts in the Dardanelles

April 25th

Allied troops landed in Gallipoli

May 7th

The “Lusitania” was sunk by a German U-boat

May 23rd

Italy declared war on Germany and Austria

August 5th

The Germans captured Warsaw from the Russians

September 25th Start of the Battle of Loos

December 19th

The Allies started the evacuation of Gallipoli


January 27th

Conscription introduced in Britain

February 21st

Start of the Battle of Verdun

April 29th

British forces surrendered to Turkish forces at Kut in Mesopotamia

May 31st

Battle of Jutland

June 4th
Start of the Brusilov Offensive

July 1st

Start of the Battle of the Somme

August 10th
End of the Brusilov Offensive

September 15th

First use en masse of tanks at the Somme

December 7th

Lloyd George becomes British Prime Minister


February 1st

Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare campaign started

April 6th

USA declared war on Germany

April 16th

France launched an unsuccessful offensive on the Western Front

July 31st

Start of the Third Battle at Ypres

October 24th

Battle of Caporetto – the Italian Army was heavily defeated

November 6th

Britain launched a major offensive on the Western Front

November 20th

British tanks won a victory at Cambrai

December 5th

Armistice between Germany and Russia signed

December 9th

Britain captured Jerusalem from the Turks

March 3rd

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed between Russia and Germany.

March 21st

Germany broke through on the Somme

March 29th

Marshall Foch was appointed Allied Commander on the Western Front

April 9th

Germany started an offensive in Flanders

July 15th

Second Battle of the Marne started. The start of the collapse of the German army

August 8th

The advance of the Allies was successful

September 19th

Turkish forces collapsed at Megiddo

October 4th

Germany asked the Allies for an armistice

October 29th

Germany’s navy mutinied

October 30th

Turkey made peace

November 3rd

Austria made peace

November 9th

Kaiser William II abdicated

November 11th

Germany signed an armistice with the Allies – the official date of the end of World War One.

Post-war – 1919

January 4th

Peace conference met at Paris

June 21st

The surrendered German naval fleet at Scapa Flow was scuttled.

June 28th

The Treaty of Versailles was signed by the Germans


The Triangle Waist Factory Fire On March 25, 1911 in New York City

Written by  on February 23, 2014

List of 146 Who Died
Adler, Lizzie, 24
Altman, Anna, 16
Ardito, Annina, 25
Bassino, Rose, 31
Benanti, Vincenza, 22
Berger, Yetta, 18
Bernstein, Essie, 19
Bernstein, Jacob, 38
Bernstein, Morris, 19
Billota, Vincenza, 16
Binowitz, Abraham, 30
Birman, Gussie, 22
Brenman, Rosie, 23
Brenman, Sarah, 17
Brodsky, Ida, 15
Brodsky, Sarah, 21
Brucks, Ada, 18
Brunetti, Laura, 17
Cammarata, Josephine, 17
Caputo, Francesca, 17
Carlisi, Josephine, 31
Caruso, Albina, 20
Ciminello, Annie, 36
Cirrito, Rosina, 18
Cohen, Anna, 25
Colletti, Annie, 30
Cooper, Sarah, 16
Cordiano , Michelina, 25
Dashefsky, Bessie, 25
Del Castillo, Josie, 21
Dockman, Clara, 19
Donick, Kalman, 24
Driansky, Nettie, 21
Eisenberg, Celia, 17
Evans, Dora, 18
Feibisch, Rebecca, 20
Fichtenholtz, Yetta, 18
Fitze, Daisy Lopez, 26
Floresta, Mary, 26
Florin, Max, 23
Franco, Jenne, 16
Friedman, Rose, 18
Gerjuoy, Diana, 18
Gerstein, Molly, 17
Giannattasio, Catherine, 22
Gitlin, Celia, 17
Goldstein, Esther, 20
Goldstein, Lena, 22
Goldstein, Mary, 18
Goldstein, Yetta, 20
Grasso, Rosie, 16
Greb, Bertha, 25
Grossman, Rachel, 18
Herman, Mary, 40
Hochfeld, Esther, 21
Hollander, Fannie, 18
Horowitz, Pauline, 19
Jukofsky, Ida, 19
Kanowitz, Ida, 18
Kaplan, Tessie, 18
Kessler, Beckie, 19
Klein, Jacob, 23
Koppelman, Beckie, 16
Kula, Bertha, 19
Kupferschmidt, Tillie, 16
Kurtz, Benjamin, 19
L’Abbate, Annie, 16
Lansner, Fannie, 21
Lauletti, Maria Giuseppa, 33
Lederman, Jennie, 21
Lehrer, Max, 18
Lehrer, Sam, 19
Leone, Kate, 14
Leventhal, Mary, 22
Levin, Jennie, 19
Levine, Pauline, 19
Liebowitz, Nettie, 23
Liermark, Rose, 19
Maiale, Bettina, 18
Maiale, Frances, 21
Maltese, Catherine, 39
Maltese, Lucia, 20
Maltese, Rosaria, 14
Manaria, Maria, 27
Mankofsky, Rose, 22
Mehl, Rose, 15
Meyers, Yetta, 19
Midolo, Gaetana, 16
Miller, Annie, 16
Neubauer, Beckie, 19
Nicholas, Annie, 18
Nicolosi, Michelina, 21
Nussbaum, Sadie, 18
Oberstein, Julia, 19
Oringer, Rose, 19
Ostrovsky , Beckie, 20
Pack, Annie, 18
Panno, Provindenza, 43
Pasqualicchio, Antonietta, 16
Pearl, Ida, 20
Pildescu, Jennie, 18
Pinelli, Vincenza, 30
Prato, Emilia, 21
Prestifilippo, Concetta, 22
Reines, Beckie, 18
Rosen (Loeb), Louis, 33
Rosen, Fannie, 21
Rosen, Israel, 17
Rosen, Julia, 35
Rosenbaum, Yetta, 22
Rosenberg, Jennie, 21
Rosenfeld, Gussie, 22
Rothstein, Emma, 22
Rotner, Theodore, 22
Sabasowitz, Sarah, 17
Salemi, Santina, 24
Saracino, Sarafina, 25
Saracino, Teresina, 20
Schiffman, Gussie, 18
Schmidt, Theresa, 32
Schneider, Ethel, 20
Schochet, Violet, 21
Schpunt, Golda, 19
Schwartz, Margaret, 24
Seltzer, Jacob, 33
Shapiro, Rosie, 17
Sklover, Ben, 25
Sorkin, Rose, 18
Starr, Annie, 30
Stein, Jennie, 18
Stellino, Jennie, 16
Stiglitz, Jennie, 22
Taback, Sam, 20
Terranova, Clotilde, 22
Tortorelli, Isabella, 17
Utal, Meyer, 23
Uzzo, Catherine, 22
Velakofsky, Frieda, 20
Viviano, Bessie, 15
Weiner, Rosie, 20
Weintraub, Sarah, 17
Weisner, Tessie, 21
Welfowitz, Dora, 21
Wendroff, Bertha, 18
Wilson, Joseph, 22
Wisotsky, Sonia, 17


Sacred Text

Written by  on January 25, 2014

Sacred Text Describes Successful Brain Surgery in Ancient Tibet

The history of brain surgery may date back as far as the late Stone Age, and some medical historians consider it the earliest operation ever performed. Recently, a specialist on Tibetan culture uncovered an intriguing account of ancient brain surgery in the 2,900-year-old Tibetan Tripiaka, a collection of Buddhist texts passed down orally for thousands of years before being recorded in Sanskrit during the third century B.C. Perhaps most significantly, the description suggests that ancient Tibetan doctors conducted craniotomies and related procedures to ease patients’ symptoms and not as part of a religious ritual, as some scholars have suggested.

The Tibetan Tripiaka.

Karma Trinley, an associate professor of Tibetan language and literature at Tibet University in Lhasa, found the passage on brain surgery after studying the Tripiaka for four decades. In it, a veteran surgeon performs the operation on a man who suffers from such severe headaches that he would resort to banging his head on hard objects to relieve the pain. Tsogyel, a young Indian doctor who happens to be watching the procedure, counsels the surgeon to heat his tweezers, presumably in order to disinfect them.

“Tsogyel was a well-reputed doctor and was good at all medical practice except brain surgery,” Trinley told Xinhua News, China’s state-run news agency. “But the surgeon followed his advice and the surgery later proved successful.” Tsogyel’s sterilization technique went on to improve recovery rates for brain surgery during that time and helped him establish his own career as a surgeon, Trinley said.

Evidence of ancient brain surgery on the Tibetan Plateau first surfaced in 1998, when archaeologists unearthed human skulls bearing cracks that had healed before death. Researchers surmised that these early craniotomies, some performed more than 5,000 years ago, were intended to heal the spirit rather than the body. “Some believed it was a religious ritual to dispel evils or bring happiness, while others held that it was a therapy used by witches and wizards,” Trinley explained.

Because it includes details on the patient’s symptoms, the brain surgery scene in the Tripi?aka implies that doctors performed at least some of these operations for legitimate therapeutic reasons, Trinley said. Brain surgery is not the only medical treatment that appears in the Tripi?aka, which aggregates the teachings of Buddhism’s founder, Siddh?rtha Gautama (also known as ??kyamuni), and commentary by his disciples. “The Tibetan Tripi?aka contains ??kyamuni’s classifications of 440 ailments that were believed to be associated with wind, bile and phlegm, and were categorized accordingly,” Trinley said, adding that some of this knowledge is still used by Tibetan doctors today.

Many other ancient civilizations used brain surgery for both religious and medical purposes hundreds or even thousands of years before the advent of modern medicine, including the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and some pre-Incan societies.


SARS Virus

Written by  on January 6, 2014

Tracking SARS back to its source January 2006

The previously unknown SARS virus generated widespread panic in 2002 and 2003 when the airborne germ caused 774 deaths and more than 8000 cases of illness. But where did this mystery virus come from? Scientists immediately suspected that it had jumped to humans from some other organism. In May of 2003, attention focused in on cat-like mammals called civets. Infected civets were discovered at a live animal market in southern China (where they are occasionally eaten). However, since further searches failed to turn up more tainted civets, scientists concluded that they were not the original source of SARS and continued their quest. Then in the fall of 2005, two teams of researchers independently discovered large reservoirs of a SARS-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats. The bats now appear to be both culprit and victim in this mystery: they are the carriers of the SARS virus, but the virus is probably only passed to humans through intermediate hosts when bats are captured and brought to market.

Where’s the evolution? How exactly did biologists conclude that bats, and not civets, were the original source of the SARS virus? Figuring out the answer required reconstructing the evolutionary history of the virus.

Viruses evolve rapidly and constantly, changing within a lineage and splitting off to form new lineages. As they evolve, they accumulate small changes in the sequences of their genomes. Based on these genetic differences, biologists can reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of different viral strains, building an evolutionary tree that reveals which strains evolved from which strains and in what order they evolved.

In this case, biologists collected samples of the SARS virus’s genetic material, RNA, from different sources: infected humans, infected civets, and different species of infected horseshoe bat. The RNA was then copied, sequenced, and used to build a phylogeny, or evolutionary tree.

The tree showed that civet and human SARS viruses are very similar to each other and, most importantly, that both are nested within a cladeof bat viruses — so the ancestor of the civet and human strains seems to have been a bat virus! Based on this evidence, biologists have come up with a plausible path of transmission: infected bats and uninfected civets came into contact at a market, the virus was transmitted to civets and then multiplied and evolved in civets (or other animals) in the public market, until eventually the virus hopped to humans.

Interestingly, viruses seem to frequently make the jump from bats to human hosts. Bats appear to be the natural reservoirs for many human viruses, including the Ebola, Hendra, and Nipah viruses — and now we can add SARS to that list. But what is it about bats that makes them such a common source of viruses? Well, biologists aren’t sure, but it might have something to do with their tendency to roost tightly packed in caves with other bat species. This situation might encourage the transmission of viruses between individuals and species and provide opportunities for viruses to evolve and recombine with each other — much as biologists fear the avian flu will recombine with a human flu virus and evolve into a deadly, epidemic-causing strain.

Knowing that human SARS ultimately evolved from a bat virus can help us better understand emerging diseases and find ways to prevent future outbreaks. Certainly, we must limit contact between bats and humans and bats and other animals. However, such viruses have existed in wild animal populations for a long time — why are they suddenly evolving to infect human hosts? The answer probably has to do with changes in human behavior: expanding human populations encroach on the territory of wild animals; markets, farms, and ranches often bring different species together in conditions that facilitate pathogen spread; and increased travel and trade between tropical regions and other areas of the world carry pathogens to new environments. Understanding these paths of transmission may help us prevent future outbreaks of diseases such as HIV, SARS, and West Nile virus — all of which have made the leap from wild animals to human hosts.

Read more about it

Primary literature:

  • Lau, S.K., Woo, P.C., Li, K.S., Huang, Y., Tsoi, H.W., Wong, B.H., Wong, S.S., Leung, S.Y., Chan, K.H., and Yuen, K.Y. (2005). Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA102(39):14040-14045.
  • Li, W., Shi, Z., Yu, M., Ren, W., Smith, C., Epstein, J.H., Wang, H., Crameri, G., Hu, Z., Zhang, H., Zhang, J., McEachern, J., Field, H., Daszak, P., Eaton, B.T., Zhang, S., and Wang, L.F. (2005). Bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. Science 310(5748):676-679.

News articles:

Understanding Evolution resources:

Discussion and extension questions

  1. What do evolutionary trees represent?
  2. What did the phylogeny of SARS virus strains indicate to researchers?
  3. What evidence did researchers use to build the phylogeny of SARS virus strains? List two other types of evidence that could be used to build an evolutionary tree.
  4. Read the short article Evolution and the avian flu. Using the concepts of viral evolution introduced in that article, explain some possible ways that bat SARS could become adapted to human hosts.
  5. Research another case of an infectious disease that has evolved from a strain originally infecting a wild animal population (e.g., HIV). Explain how that disease made the jump to humans and how that “host switch” is similar to and different from the emergence of SARS.

Related lessons and teaching resources

  • Teach the basics of phylogenetics. In this web-based module for grades 6-12, students are introduced to cladistics, which organizes living things by common ancestry and evolutionary relationships.
  • Teach about how phylogenies are built. This classroom activity for grades 9-12 introduces how cladograms are built using anatomical characters and shows how shared derived characters can be used to reveal degrees of relationship.
  • Teach about using molecular data to infer evolutionary relationships. In this classroom activity for grades 9-12, students formulate explanations and models that simulate structural and biochemical data as they investigate the misconception that humans evolved from apes.


  • Lau, S.K., Woo, P.C., Li, K.S., Huang, Y., Tsoi, H.W., Wong, B.H., Wong, S.S., Leung, S.Y., Chan, K.H., and Yuen, K.Y. (2005). Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA102(39):14040-14045.
  • Li, W., Shi, Z., Yu, M., Ren, W., Smith, C., Epstein, J.H., Wang, H., Crameri, G., Hu, Z., Zhang, H., Zhang, J., McEachern, J., Field, H., Daszak, P., Eaton, B.T., Zhang, S., and Wang, L.F. (2005). Bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. Science310(5748):676-679.
  • Normile, Dennis. (2005). Researchers tie deadly SARS virus to bats. Science309:2154-2155.
  • The usual suspects. (2005, November 17). The Economist. Retrieved December 19, 2005 from The Economist.

Civet photo provided by MCPA2; bat photo provided by Dr. Brock Fenton See Photos here