A new research, which found that malaria is several thousand years older than previously thought, could help develop new strategies to control the disease.
Scientists at Imperial College London found that the deadly tropical disease evolved alongside humans and moved with our ancestors as they migrated out of Africa around 60-80,000 years ago. The findings and the techniques in the study could be important in informing current control strategies aimed at reducing the prevalence of malaria.
The team characterised the largest collection of malaria parasites ever assembled, by DNA sequencing to track the parasite’s age and discovered clear correlation of decreasing genetic diversity with distance from sub-Saharan Africa.
“The genetic sequencing of the malaria parasite shows a geographic spread pattern with striking similarities to studies on humans. This points to a shared geographic origin, age and route of spread around the world. This understanding is important because despite the prevalence and deadly impact of malaria little research has previously been done to understand the genetic variation of the parasite. The genetic diversity of malaria parasites is central to their threat as it helps them to overcome the immune system and to develop drug resistance, making this research vital in informing new and more effective control strategies,” said Dr. Francois Balloux from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling.
The research is published in the journal Current Biology.