The recent use of next-generation sequencing methods to investigate historical disease outbreaks has provided us with an unprecedented ability to address important and long-standing questions in epidemiology, pathogen evolution, and human history. In this review, we present major findings that illustrate how microbial genomics has provided new insights into the nature and etiology of infectious diseases of historical importance, such as plague, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Sequenced isolates collected from archaeological remains also provide evidence for the timing of historical evolutionary events as well as geographic spread of these pathogens. Elucidating the genomic basis of virulence in historical diseases can provide relevant information on how we can effectively understand the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases today and in the future.
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