By including the geographic origin of the virus samples in their model, the team discovered that two hantaviruses, a type of virus hosted by rodents and potentially fatal to humans, have emerged in Europe already thousands of years ago, making them at least ten to a hundred times older than admitted so far.

This study suggests that state-of-the-art computational methods used to date pathogen emergence and relying on sequence data alone might be severely underestimating older time scales.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provides valuable insights on pathogen evolution in association with their host species, which is of major importance in the context of emerging animal pathogens causing epidemic diseases in humans and livestock.