Plague has earned a place in history books as the Black Death of medieval Europe, and in novels, from Albert Camus' classic The Plague, to the more recent Year of Wonders.1,2 A different medium for telling the tale of the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis is its genome, recently sequenced by researchers at the Sanger Centre, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine.3

In addition to identifying 4,012 genes, comprising 84 percent of the sequence, the work reveals an unusually dynamic genome, with genes added, moved, and silenced into pseudogenehood. "This flexibility in its genome has made Yersinia pestis a finely tuned pathogen that is adaptable to new routes of transmission to humans. This is like watching evolution in action," says Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis...

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