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Many infectious diseases are thought to have emerged in humans after the Neolithic revolution. While it is broadly accepted that this also applies to measles, the exact date of emergence for this disease is controversial. In a recent study from CViSB investigators and colleagues, the genome of a 1912 measles virus was sequenced from a formalin-preserved lung, representing the oldest measles virus every sequenced. The investigators then 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. The analyses show that the measles virus potentially arose as early as the 4th century BCE, rekindling the recently challenged hypothesis of an antique origin of this disease.

The full study can be accessed on the BioRxiv and it received widespread media attention, including a recent article in The Atlantic.