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Concept: Italy


The 14th-18th century pandemic of Yersinia pestis caused devastating disease outbreaks in Europe for almost 400 years. The reasons for plague’s persistence and abrupt disappearance in Europe are poorly understood, but could have been due to either the presence of now-extinct plague foci in Europe itself, or successive disease introductions from other locations. Here we present five Y. pestis genomes from one of the last European outbreaks of plague, from 1722 in Marseille, France. The lineage identified has not been found in any extant Y. pestis foci sampled to date, and has its ancestry in strains obtained from victims of the 14th century Black Death. These data suggest the existence of a previously uncharacterized historical plague focus that persisted for at least three centuries. We propose that this disease source may have been responsible for the many resurgences of plague in Europe following the Black Death.

Concepts: Pandemic, Italy, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Third Pandemic, London


The Black Death, originating in Asia, arrived in the Mediterranean harbors of Europe in 1347 CE, via the land and sea trade routes of the ancient Silk Road system. This epidemic marked the start of the second plague pandemic, which lasted in Europe until the early 19th century. This pandemic is generally understood as the consequence of a singular introduction of Yersinia pestis, after which the disease established itself in European rodents over four centuries. To locate these putative plague reservoirs, we studied the climate fluctuations that preceded regional plague epidemics, based on a dataset of 7,711 georeferenced historical plague outbreaks and 15 annually resolved tree-ring records from Europe and Asia. We provide evidence for repeated climate-driven reintroductions of the bacterium into European harbors from reservoirs in Asia, with a delay of 15 ± 1 y. Our analysis finds no support for the existence of permanent plague reservoirs in medieval Europe.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Middle Ages, Europe, Pandemic, Italy, Yersinia pestis, Black Death, Silk Road


Since 2010, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s (EMBL) Heidelberg laboratory and the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have jointly run bioinformatics training courses developed specifically for secondary school science teachers within Europe and EMBL member states. These courses focus on introducing bioinformatics, databases, and data-intensive biology, allowing participants to explore resources and providing classroom-ready materials to support them in sharing this new knowledge with their students. In this article, we chart our progress made in creating and running three bioinformatics training courses, including how the course resources are received by participants and how these, and bioinformatics in general, are subsequently used in the classroom. We assess the strengths and challenges of our approach, and share what we have learned through our interactions with European science teachers.

Concepts: DNA, Bioinformatics, Molecular biology, Education, European Bioinformatics Institute, Malta, Italy, European Molecular Biology Laboratory


Historian Ammianus Marcellinus documented the devastating effects of a tsunami hitting Alexandria, Egypt, on July 21, AD 365. “The solidity of the earth was made to shake … and the sea was driven away. The waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning. Huge ships… perched on the roofs of houses… hurled miles from the shore….”. Other settlements around the Mediterranean were hit at roughly the same time. This scenario is similar to that of the recent Sumatra and Tohoku tsunamis. Based on geophysical surveys and sediment cores from the Ionian Sea we show that the 20-25 m thick megaturbidite known in the literature as Homogenite/Augias was triggered not by the Santorini caldera collapse but by the 365 AD Cretan earthquake/tsunami. An older similar megaturbidite was deposited after 14.590 ± 80 yr BP, implying a large recurrence time of such extreme sedimentary events in the Mediterranean Sea.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Alexandria, Tsunami, Greece, Santorini, 365 Crete earthquake, Ammianus Marcellinus


The Messina Strait, that separates peninsular Italy from Sicily, is one of the most seismically active areas of the Mediterranean. The structure and seismotectonic setting of the region are poorly understood, although the area is highly populated and important infrastructures are planned there. New seismic reflection data have identified a number of faults, as well as a crustal scale NE-trending anticline few km north of the strait. These features are interpreted as due to active right-lateral transpression along the north-eastern Sicilian offshore, coexisting with extensional and right-lateral transtensional tectonics in the southern Messina Strait. This complex tectonic network appears to be controlled by independent and overlapping tectonic settings, due to the presence of a diffuse transfer zone between the SE-ward retreating Calabria subduction zone relative to slab advance in the western Sicilian side.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Italy, Calabria, Sicily, Southern Italy, Naples, Sicilian language, Palermo


The calcareous sponge Paraleucilla magna, originally observed along the Brazilian coast (Atlantic Ocean), is the only allochthonous invasive species of Porifera reported in the Mediterranean Sea. A 1-year investigation of the population dynamics and life-cycle of this exotic species in the Mar Piccolo di Taranto (southern Italy, central Mediterranean Sea) has provided a good opportunity to test how environmental variations can influence its life-cycle and to ascertain what strategy can be adopted to successfully colonize a new environment. In the Mar Piccolo di Taranto, P. magna exhibits marked temporal changes in biomass. The studied specimens reproduce almost all year round, showing a seasonal pattern that peaks during warm months. This prolonged sexual activity allows P. magna to continuously produce young specimens, with repeated recruitment events taking place throughout the year, thus offsetting the seasonal mortality of adult specimens. This r-strategy enables the non-indigenous sponge to achieve a high degree of maintenance over relatively long periods (ten years at least).

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Ocean, Italy, Invasive species, Marine debris, Introduced species


A Mediterranean “roche du large” ecosystem, represented by four rocky shoals, located a few miles apart on a muddy bottom at 70-130 m depth in the gulf of St. Eufemia (Calabria, South Tyrrhenian Sea), was studied by means of Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) photo imaging. The shoals host highly diversified coral communities, mainly composed of arborescent colonies of gorgonians (Callogorgia verticillata, Paramuricea clavata, Paramuricea macrospina, Bebryce mollis, Villogorgia bebrycoides, Corallium rubrum, and Leptogorgia sarmentosa), and antipatharians (Antipathella subpinnata, Antipathes dichotoma and Parantipathes larix). The coral colonies reach high densities (up to ca. 17 colonies m(-2)) and large sizes, such as the over 1.5 m wide antipatharian colonies. We hypothesized that the abundance and composition of the coral assemblages differed significantly among the rocky shoals and with respect to the surrounding soft bottoms. Various environmental variables were tested as possible explanatory factors of the observed differences. Moreover, due to their off-coast localization, we report here that these unique ecosystems are potentially subjected to a strong pressure from the local fishing activities, which were tentatively characterized. The recorded coral β-diversity among the shoals supports the hypothesis that these habitats behave like small oases of hard substrata interspersed in a muddy bottom. Because of their intrinsic beauty and rarity and their biological and ecological value, we stress the need of specific actions aimed at the urgent protection of these oases of biodiversity.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mediterranean Sea, Hypothesis, Italy, Calabria, Sicily, Tyrrhenian Sea, Corallium


Piroplasmosis are among the most relevant diseases of domestic animals. Babesia is emerging as cause of tick-borne zoonosis worldwide and free-living animals are reservoir hosts of several zoonotic Babesia species. We investigated the epidemiology of Babesia spp. and Theileria spp. in wild ungulates and carnivores from Northern Italy to determine which of these apicomplexan species circulate in wildlife and their prevalence of infection.

Concepts: Disease, Apicomplexa, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Babesia, Slovenia, Alps


The rapid Arab-Islamic conquest during the early Middle Ages led to major political and cultural changes in the Mediterranean world. Although the early medieval Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula is now well documented, based in the evaluation of archeological and historical sources, the Muslim expansion in the area north of the Pyrenees has only been documented so far through textual sources or rare archaeological data. Our study provides the first archaeo-anthropological testimony of the Muslim establishment in South of France through the multidisciplinary analysis of three graves excavated at Nimes. First, we argue in favor of burials that followed Islamic rites and then note the presence of a community practicing Muslim traditions in Nimes. Second, the radiometric dates obtained from all three human skeletons (between the 7th and the 9th centuries AD) echo historical sources documenting an early Muslim presence in southern Gaul (i.e., the first half of 8th century AD). Finally, palaeogenomic analyses conducted on the human remains provide arguments in favor of a North African ancestry of the three individuals, at least considering the paternal lineages. Given all of these data, we propose that the skeletons from the Nimes burials belonged to Berbers integrated into the Umayyad army during the Arab expansion in North Africa. Our discovery not only discusses the first anthropological and genetic data concerning the Muslim occupation of the Visigothic territory of Septimania but also highlights the complexity of the relationship between the two communities during this period.

Concepts: North Africa, Iberian Peninsula, Al-Andalus, Spain, Islam, Italy, Archaeology, 1st millennium


Understanding the complexity of live pig trade organization is a key factor to predict and control major infectious diseases, such as classical swine fever (CSF) or African swine fever (ASF). Whereas the organization of pig trade has been described in several European countries with indoor commercial production systems, little information is available on this organization in other systems, such as outdoor or small-scale systems. The objective of this study was to describe and compare the spatial and functional organization of live pig trade in different European countries and different production systems. Data on premise characteristics and pig movements between premises were collected during 2011 from Bulgaria, France, Italy, and Spain, which swine industry is representative of most of the production systems in Europe (i.e., commercial vs. small-scale and outdoor vs. indoor). Trade communities were identified in each country using the Walktrap algorithm. Several descriptive and network metrics were generated at country and community levels. Pig trade organization showed heterogeneous spatial and functional organization. Trade communities mostly composed of indoor commercial premises were identified in western France, northern Italy, northern Spain, and north-western Bulgaria. They covered large distances, overlapped in space, demonstrated both scale-free and small-world properties, with a role of trade operators and multipliers as key premises. Trade communities involving outdoor commercial premises were identified in western Spain, south-western and central France. They were more spatially clustered, demonstrated scale-free properties, with multipliers as key premises. Small-scale communities involved the majority of premises in Bulgaria and in central and Southern Italy. They were spatially clustered and had scale-free properties, with key premises usually being commercial production premises. These results indicate that a disease might spread very differently according to the production system and that key premises could be targeted to more cost-effectively control diseases. This study provides useful epidemiological information and parameters that could be used to design risk-based surveillance strategies or to more accurately model the risk of introduction or spread of devastating swine diseases, such as ASF, CSF, or foot-and-mouth disease.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Infectious disease, Europe, Fever, Animal virology, Italy, Classical swine fever, Swine diseases