A Good Bout of Plague #472

May 04, 2018

Who doesn't love a good medical pandemic? This week we're diving into the bubonic plague. We'll talk with Boris Schmid about whether rats should really get the blame for the Black Death, and we'll talk with Loren Cassin Sackett about what happens today when plague strikes... prairie dog towns!

This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.


  • Boris Schmid
  • Loren Cassin Sackett
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Guest Bios

Boris Schmid

Boris Schmid is a researcher at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis at the University of Oslo in Norway. He studies the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of human diseases, particularly those with a wildlife reservoir. His lab uses statistical methods and simulation modelling. Data comes from surveillance work and various proxies, including historic records of human outbreaks. He is currently working on Yersinia pestis, which is the canonical example of a wildlife disease that sporadically erupted into grave pandemics in humans.

Loren Cassin Sackett

Loren Cassin Sackett is an evolutionary biologist at the University of South Florida. Her research centers around the evolution of small populations and the influence of pathogens on evolution of their hosts. She currently focuses on two main systems: avian malaria in Hawaiian honeycreepers and sylvatic plague in prairie dogs. She is working to characterize the genomic basis of resistance to avian malaria among Hawaiian honeycreepers. Her lab also investigates the evolutionary effects of the introduced pathogen Yersinia pestis (the bacteria causing plague) on fragmented populations of black-tailed prairie dogs.