The parasite that causes Malaria, a disease that infects about 250 million people each year, originated in gorillas, according to a new international study published by the journal Nature .

Until recently scientists thought that only the man was carrying the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the most common, the most virulent and causes more deaths than five malaria parasites that are known in man. But in 2009 scientists realized that “certain species of monkeys, like chimpanzees , gorillas and bonobos , were carriers of types of parasites similar to those of humans, “explains Eric Delaporte, Institute of Development Research (IRD ) Marseille (France). Since previous studies were based on the study of a limited number of primates, the scientists examined about 3,000 stool samples collected in 57 different locations in Central Africa.

The studies, initiated a decade ago, when it began to look for the origin of the AIDS virus, showed that this parasite does not infect bonobos and gorillas in the east. Instead, it is found in western gorillas (in countries like Cameroon and Gabon) and chimpanzees. Moreover, a technique for sequencing DNA led to the discovery that “several different types of falciparum infected gorillas and one of them was the ancestor of the type of P. falciparum that is in man,” said Delaporte. Therefore, “the gorillas infected men and men to the gorillas.”

In future work, the researchers will try to know when the transfer took place and whether the presence of P. Falciparum in monkeys is risky, because if so the gorillas carriers could infect humans at a time when deforestation causes contact between the two. According to Martine Peeters, IRD, studies so far tend to show that the transmission of parasite malaria occurred once. However, more research will be needed to verify that no other transmissions.

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