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The parasite Plasmodium vivax isn’t as well known as its deadly cousin P. falciparum, which dominates sub-Saharan Africa. But the “other malaria,” which is rare in Africa, sickens some 75 million people a year in Asia and the Americas. Now, new genetic evidence shows how the parasite might have gotten its start: in African ape and human populations, before hitching a ride off the continent with early human migrants.
Until recently, scientists assumed P. vivax had originated in Asian macaques and jumped to humans there, before spreading to Europe and the Americas. But in 2010, scientists started to find evidence of P. vivax in African chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos. That suggested an African origin for the parasite. However, there was only sparse genetic evidence to support the theory; most data from ape parasites came from just a few incomplete sequences recovered from primate ****.
Researchers - Genomes - Parasites - Chimpanzees - Gorilla
Now, researchers have managed to sequence nearly the entire genomes of parasites that infected six chimpanzees and one gorilla. Blood samples for the chimpanzees came from sanctuaries in Cameroon and Gabon and from a wild chimp in the Ivory Coast. The gorilla sample came from a piece of bushmeat collected in Cameroon.
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This new, closer look at the parasite’s genes shows that the ape parasites are vastly more diverse than those that infect humans, scientists report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That adds weight to the idea that P. vivax once infected both apes and humans in Africa and tagged along with migrating humans to Eurasia and the Americas, says David Conway, a malaria expert at the London School...
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