Measles virus and rinderpest virus divergence dated to the sixth century BCE

Science. 2020 Jun 19;368(6497):1367-1370. doi: 10.1126/science.aba9411.


Many infectious diseases are thought to have emerged in humans after the Neolithic revolution. Although it is broadly accepted that this also applies to measles, the exact date of emergence for this disease is controversial. We sequenced the genome of a 1912 measles virus and used selection-aware molecular clock modeling to determine the divergence date of measles virus and rinderpest virus. This divergence date represents the earliest possible date for the establishment of measles in human populations. Our analyses show that the measles virus potentially arose as early as the sixth century BCE, possibly coinciding with the rise of large cities.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cities / history
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / history*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / virology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Measles / history*
  • Measles / virology
  • Measles virus / genetics*
  • Rinderpest virus / genetics