BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Sept. 22 (UPI) — The malaria parasite that infects humans didn’t come from our closest relative, the chimpanzee, as long thought, but rather from gorillas, U.S. researchers say.
Research suggests the mosquito that first injected Homo sapiens with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum didn’t pick it up from chimpanzees but from the western gorilla, ScienceNews.org reported Wednesday.
The finding is something of a vindication for chimpanzees, long blamed as the source of the illness that affects millions of human around the world.
It had been believed the human-infecting parasite was most closely related to the chimp-infecting version, and that the parasite lineage split at the same time as the chimp-human lineage.
But DNA tests on samples from eastern gorillas, western gorillas, and chimpanzees narrowed it down to western gorillas as the source.
The evidence also suggests the parasite jump from gorilla to human happened only once, study leader Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham says.
What is not known yet is exactly when the crossover happened, researchers say.
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