Scientists find how deadly malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans

Analysis of a 50,000-year-old gene sequence has helped scientists figure out how the world's deadliest malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans.

The crucial DNA sequence revealed the importance of a particular 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."

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.


"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.''

According to World Health Organization data, malaria - spread by mosquitoes - infects around 216 million people a year globally.

And kills more than 400,000 of them - mostly babies and children in the poorest parts of Africa.