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Human malaria parasite traced to a fellow primate
Credit: Ian Nichols and the National Geographic Society
The evolutionary origin of Plasmodium falciparum, the most prevalent and lethal of the malaria parasites infecting humans, is much debated. Genetic analysis of thousands of fecal samples from wild-living African apes show that the parasites found in the western gorillas — rather than those of chimpanzees or bonobos — are most closely related to the human parasite. The data suggest that all extant human strains of the parasite evolved from a single host transfer event. The new findings are also relevant to the current antimalaria campaign, as they point to potential Plasmodium reservoirs in apes.
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