- Title: Scientists find how deadly malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans
- Date: 15th October 2019
- Summary: CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (OCTOBER 14, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR GAVIN WRIGHT, BIOLOGIST, SAYING: "If we can understand the pathway the parasite has used to jump from gorillas to humans, this in theory could happen again. Although we think this is very unlikely, but at least we have now determined a molecular pathway that we could investigate to try and pre-empt any kind of transfer that might happen again in the future."
- Embargoed: 29th October 2019 16:15
- Keywords: World Health Organization parasite humans gorilla deadly malaria University of Montpellier Wellcome Sanger Institute
- Location: CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM / BRISTOL, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM / MOSCOW, RUSSIA
- City: CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM / BRISTOL, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM / MOSCOW, RUSSIA
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA006B17IAFV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Scientists who resurrected a 50,000-year-old gene sequence have analysed 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.
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 analysing 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.
"Our attention was immediately drawn to a gene called rh5. This is a particularly interesting gene because it's absolutely essential for allowing the parasite to invade red blood cells and what we could do is to try and turn the clock back to do a kind of molecular archaeology to re-create the sequence of this gene as it might have happened 50,000 years ago when this parasite switched from infecting gorillas to being able to infect humans," Gavin Wright, who co-led the work at Britain's Wellcome Sanger Institute, said.
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes and infects around 216 million people a year worldwide, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data. The disease kills more than 400,000 people a year, the vast majority of them babies and children in the poorest parts of Africa.
"In the history of mankind, it's been estimated that malaria has been responsible for more human deaths than any other disease," Wright added.
(Production: Stuart McDill, Edward Baran)
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