Thursday, September 23, 2010

Deadly Malaria Came To Humans From Gorillas, Not Chimps

A US-led study of malaria parasites in wild apes in Africa suggests that the parasite that causes the most deadly form of the disease in humans, Plasmodium falciparum, did not come from chimpanzees as first thought but from gorillas.

You can read how lead investigator Dr Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the US, and colleagues from the US, the Republic of Congo, the Republic of Cameroon, France, and the UK, arrived at this conclusion in a paper published online in the journal Nature on 23 September.

Of the five species of human malaria-causing parasites carried by mosquitoes, P. falciparum is the most prevalent and the most deadly; it causes hundreds of millions of cases of malaria and more than one million deaths every year. However, its evolutionary roots are a much debated topic.

Until this study, it was thought that P. falciparum's closest relative was P. reichenowi, which infects chimpanzees, but this is based on small studies that only included a few apes, and even fewer in the wild.

For their study, Hahn and colleagues analysed the DNA of thousands of samples of droppings from wild-living African apes and discovered that the Plasmodium parasites most closely related to the human one are to be found in the western gorillas rather than chimpanzees or bonobos.

Their findings also suggest that all existing strains of the human form evolved from a single jump from one species to another.

Full story here.

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