Ancient DNA Sheds Light on Malaria's Origin and Spread

Ancient DNA Sheds Light on Malaria's Origin and Spread

A recent study has used ancient DNA from human skeletons to trace the evolutionary history and global spread of malaria over the past 5,500 years. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, analyzed DNA from 36 individuals across five continents. Their findings indicate that trade, warfare, and colonialism were major factors in the dispersal of the malaria-causing parasites, Plasmodium falciparum and P. vivax. The research also revealed genetic links between ancient strains and modern populations, such as those between the Laguna de los Cóndores strain and contemporary Peruvian P. vivax.

The study, published in The Journal of Human History, suggests that malaria's reach into the Americas may have occurred via the Bering Strait or through European colonizers. Despite significant control and eradication efforts, malaria remains a major global health challenge, with the World Health Organization estimating nearly 250 million infections and over 600,000 deaths annually. The research could provide new insights into the disease's history and contribute to the development of new treatments and strategies to combat it.

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