During the Middle Ages, the Black Death wreaked havoc in Europe, claiming 25 million lives. In the English village of Eyam, a unique story unfolded, challenging historical understanding. Investigating this anomaly, scientist Stephen O'Brien made a groundbreaking discovery with implications for combating the deadliest diseases of the 21st century.
The Black Death, introduced in Europe in 1347 via Genoese galleys, spread rapidly through trade routes. Quarantine strategies were employed, yet historian Justin Champion found survivors in London, defying expectations.
O'Brien's focus turned to Eyam, a village hit by the plague in 1665. Despite strict quarantine measures, survivors emerged with tales of miraculous recovery, raising questions about the disease's nature. Local historian John Clifford identified 433 survivors, challenging perceptions of the plague's severity in Eyam.
The anthrax theory, considered due to similar symptoms, was ruled out in Derbyshire. Symptoms such as black swellings, fever, and intense thirst confirmed the presence of the plague in Eyam.
Justin Champion's study debunked the belief that squalor and overcrowding in London increased death rates, revealing uniformity across social classes. Eyam's rural setting didn't impede the plague's spread, questioning the role of living conditions.
Geneticist Stephen O'Brien explored genetic factors in survival, focusing on the delta 32 gene's role in the body's defense. Analysis of DNA samples from Eyam revealed the presence of delta 32 in 14 descendants, suggesting genetic resistance. High levels of the gene in Europe aligned with the Black Death's routes, indicating rapid genetic mutations for survival.
O'Brien linked a historical infectious disease outbreak to the Black Death, with delta 32's geography aligning precisely. Back-calculating the mutation's age to 700 years ago, coinciding with the Black Death, suggested delta 32 blocked the plague bacteria from entering human cells.
Some at Eyam resisted the plague entirely, hinting at two copies of the gene. Further exploration of AIDS revealed parallels. Steve Crone, a survivor, possessed delta 32, offering resistance against HIV. O'Brien's research uncovered a legacy: plague survivors inadvertently passed on protection against modern scourges, opening avenues for preventive cures.
In summary, Eyam's resistance to the plague led to the discovery of delta 32, a genetic legacy offering insights into survival against historical and modern deadly diseases.