Scientists find how deadly malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans

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Scientists who resurrected a 50,000-year-old gene sequence have analyzed it to figure out how the world's deadliest malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans – giving insight into the origins of one of human history's biggest killers.

FILE PHOTO: A health worker shows a malaria rapid test kit after collecting blood sample from a resident during a drive to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in Ahmedabad, India, October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

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LONDON: Scientists who resurrected a 50,000-year-old gene sequence have analyzed it to figure out how the world's deadliest malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans: giving insight into the origins of one of human history's biggest killers.

The researchers said their work also deepens understanding of a process known as zoonosis – when a pathogen that can infect animals acquires genetic changes enabling it to infect humans – as has been the case with diseases such as flu and Ebola.

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In the case of the most deadly form of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, this analysis found that it gained its ability to infect human blood cells from a section of DNA that had transferred from a gorilla parasite.

By analyzing the crucial DNA sequence, the researchers found it included a gene that produces a protein called RH5 which binds to a protein receptor in human red blood cells.

"The fact that this ancestral RH5 protein was able to bind to red blood cell receptor(s) … from both humans and gorillas immediately provided a molecular explanation for how P. falciparum evolved to infect humans," said Francis Galaway, who co-led the research team from Britain&Read More – Source