Malaria might have come from gorillas, report says

New research suggests that human beings picked up the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, from the western gorilla, and not the previously suspected chimpanzee.

P. falciparum appears, according to a report in the September issue of Nature, to be most closely related to a species of Plasmodium that infects gorillas. Previous research has suggested that P. faciparum was more closely related to P. reichenowi, which is found in chimpanzee populations. The chimpanzee populations tested, however, were usually limited to a small number of apes and generally in a captive population.

The notion of a link between human and chimpanzee parasites fits a picture of host-parasite evolution that suggested that the malaria parasite split into two groups around the same time chimpanzees and humans split, according to

The team that made the gorilla link used mitochondrial DNA samples to produce phylogenic trees that were then used to indicate the relationships between the organisms based on DNA and found something different, reports.

Plasmodium DNA collected from 2,500 fecal samples from western gorillas, eastern gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees pointed to a source among western gorillas. The parasites were highly host specific.

Scientists still have little idea as to the time frame of the jump, but, study leader Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told, it is likely that it happened as one transmission event.