THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Chimpanzee parasite genomes show human malaria is evolving

Pregnancy-associate malaria, severe anemia, and cerebral malaria are connected to the parasite, which can infect red blood cells. | File photo

An international team of scientists has implemented a selective amplification technique that allowed them to sequence genomes from two species of parasites in chimpanzees, helping them to better understand how human malaria has evolved over time.

Two divergent Plasmodium species -- Plasmodium gaboni and Plasmodium reichenowi -- are found inside chimpanzee blood. These two parasites can help scientists to better understand Plasmodium falciparum’s pathogenicity, as this is the deadliest malaria parasite that infects humans today.

It is important to understand how emerging diseases begin, as it helps the researchers predict future human infection risks and discover new preventions and treatments.

"We want to know why Plasmodium falciparum is so deadly," Dr. Beatrice Hahn, a professor of Medicine and Microbiology from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said. "The answer must lie in the blueprint -- the genome -- of its chimpanzee and gorilla cousins. We also want to know how and when the gorilla precursor of Plasmodium falciparum jumped into humans, and why this happened only once."

Over 500,000 people die from malaria each year. The symptoms, including pregnancy-associate malaria, severe anemia, and cerebral malaria, are connected to the parasite, which can infect red blood cells. These cells then connect to the blood vessels’ inner lining.

Organizations in this story

Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania 3400 Civic Center Blvd Philadelphia, PA 19104

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