Malaria Jumped From Chimps to Humans

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2009 2:53 AM CDT
The closest known relative of the strain of malaria deadliest to humans is a parasite found in chimps.   (AP Photo/Michael L. Wilson, Nature)
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(Newser) – The parasite that causes malaria almost certainly jumped from chimpanzees to humans much like the AIDS virus did, National Geographic reports. Scientists initially believed that the malaria parasite that kills over a million people annually was older than humanity. But new research has found that it is a mutant version of one of many strains that affect chimpanzees. They believe it may have jumped between species as recently as 10,000 years ago.

The current belief that the deadliest strain of malaria "has been in humans for millions and millions of years is wrong," said a study author. "We now know that there was a point in time when this was primarily a disease in chimpanzees that jumped and took hold in humans." The researchers believe that the new knowledge of malaria's origins could lead to a breakthrough in the search for a malaria vaccine.