Scientists identify vector that infected apes and humans with malaria

Following a 2010 study that revealed the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite arose from the gorilla, a Franco-Gabonese research consortium recently identified the vector that transmitted the parasite from apes to humans.

Researchers from France's Institute of Research for Development, the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Gabon-based International Center for Medical Research in Franceville conducted analysis on a thousand mosquitoes living in close proximity to wild or semi-wild primates. After analyzing the insects collected, the researchers determined the Anopheles moucheti was both primatophilic and anthropophilic, making it likely the mosquito species enabled the infection's transmission from apes to humans thousands of years ago.

Anopheles moucheti could continue to transfer parasites from one mammal to another, making apes a malaria reservoir for humans. Deforestation and hunting activities are providing increasingly close interaction between humans and apes. Conversely, the mosquito species could also transmit the disease from humans to apes, threatening highly endangered populations.

Until recently, the evolutionary history of malaria parasites was unknown. In the past five years, scientists discovered several species of Plasmodium in close cousins to humans, chimpanzees and gorillas. Scientists recently described P. praefalciparum in gorillas, the closest genetic relative to P. falciparum, the most virulent infectious malaria agent.

The researchers published the results of the study in PLoS ONE.