China could be the origin of the plague that hit Europe thrice, a study by a team of medical geneticists said.

Europe had two massive plague attacks - one that began in 1347, called the Black Death that wiped a third of the European population. The plague continued for centuries till its last major outbreak called the Great Plague of London from 1665 to 1666. Analyses done in ancient DNA and proteins from mass burial grounds across Europe, led to the conclusion that Black Death was brought about by Yersinia Pestis.

Medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman of University College Cork in Ireland have found that the three massive plague attacks have been linked to a common family tree of the virus. The virus family originated in China. Plague could have reached from China to other parts of the world through the Silk Road and in Africa, through voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He.

In the issue of Nature Genetics published online Sunday, they conclude that all three of the great waves of plague originated from China, where the root of their tree is situated. Plague would have reached Europe across the Silk Road, they say. An epidemic of plague that reached East Africa was probably spread by the voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He who led a fleet of 300 ships to Africa in 1409.

“What’s exciting is that we are able to reconstruct the historical routes of bacterial disease over centuries,” Dr. Achtman said.

The likely origin of the plague in China has nothing to do with its people or crowded cities, Dr. Achtman said