Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Analysis Reveals Malaria as Ancient, Adaptive and Persistent Foe

The article I found describes recent findings from Oregon State University, showing that malaria and other insect-borne pathogens are much older than their current, modern human hosts. Insects fossilized in amber were analyzed investigate the age of malaria, leishmaniasis, and trypanosomiasis- diseases which still pose serious danger to humans. However, dating of these specimens confirmed malarial parasites existed as long as 100 million years ago. This clearly demonstrated that malaria was not initially a human pathogen, as it predates the earliest humans by millions of years.
The OSU team went on to show that malaria's adaptive protein coating is the reason for this inter-species flexibility. Malaria co-evolved with its earliest hosts, transforming as hosts' systems changed. This way, the ancient pathogen passed from birds, to monkeys, then on to early humans. This is the same reason modern malaria is becoming so resistant to drugs- the protein coating on the virus reacts to immune reactions in vertebrates and changes accordingly. Globally, anywhere from 300-500 million malaria cases are recorded worldwide every year, with the virus killing upwards of 1 million in Africa alone yearly.

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