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Human malaria traced to gorillas

The parasite responsible for human malaria originated in gorillas, a study involving an Edinburgh scientist has shown.

An international team of researchers studying infection in wild apes and chimpanzees across central Africa has identified the origin of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which causes most cases of human malaria.

Their research reveals that wild gorillas are the source of the malaria parasite, which is transmitted person-to-person by mosquitoes.

Information on the origin of the infection may be critical in learning how to treat and ultimately eradicate human malaria.

International study

The study, which involved researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Montpellier, the Sanger Institute, and other collaborators around the world, identified six species of parasite.

Three of these cause malaria infection in chimps and three infect gorillas. One of the species that affects gorillas is also the source of human infection.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Malaria affects 500 million people worldwide, killing more than one million every year.

At some point in early human history, a gorilla malaria parasite evolved to infect and spread among humans.

Professor Paul SharpSchool of Biological Sciences