Researchers trace origins of malaria parasite from African slave trade to South America

December 27, 2011 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
A thin-film Giemsa stained micrograph of ring-forms, and gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum. Image: CDC

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study done using DNA analysis and partly undertaken by the University of California, Irvine, has found evidence to support the premise that malaria was brought to South America via the African slave trade in the sixteenth century, rather than much earlier as some have suggested. The results of the study, led by evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, are to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the malaria parasite apparently had two sites of introduction, one in the northern part of South America and another in the south.

For many years there has been much debate about just how long ago malaria was introduced to South . Were it to have been thousands of years ago, as some have theorized, the parasite would have had to travel over the Atlantic Ocean by bird or perhaps carried aloft, embedded in . With this new research however, such theories are likely to be put to rest.

To trace the roots of the malaria parasite in South America, Ayala and his colleagues collected samples of blood from people that had been infected with the protozoan from seventeen countries in South America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. As each sample was gathered, was undertaken, comparing known stretches from each sample with all of the others collected. The team then performed mosquito generational estimates to come up with an approximation of how many years prior the malaria parasite must have first appeared in South American people.

Because of the inexactness of deriving estimates, the team calculated both high and low estimates based on either 12 or 6 mosquito generations per year. For the former, the team estimated that malaria arrived on the shores of South America some 217 to 495 years ago. For the later, it came to somewhere between 434 and 900 years ago.

In one area of first introduction, which appears to have occurred in a northern part of the continent; via Mexico perhaps, or in Columbia, the time estimates calculated overlap the time period during which Spanish slave traders were operating in those areas. Likewise, the second area of introduction appears to overlap with the time frame consistent with Portuguese slave traders operating in what is now Brazil.

Thus, the team concludes, it appears highly likely that the was introduced into South America by European slave traders bringing infected people from Africa to work as forced laborers in the precious metal mines and sugar cane fields.

Explore further: Monkeys provide reservoir for human malaria in South-east Asia

More information: “Multiple independent introductions of Plasmodium falciparum in South America,” by Erhan Yalcindag et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dec 26 2011.

Related Stories

Monkeys provide reservoir for human malaria in South-east Asia

April 7, 2011
Monkeys infected with an emerging malaria strain are providing a reservoir for human disease in South-east Asia, according to research published today. The Wellcome Trust-funded study confirms that the species has not yet ...

Wolbachia bacteria reduce parasite levels and kill the mosquito that spreads malaria

May 19, 2011
Wolbachia are bacteria that infect many insects, including mosquitoes. However, Wolbachia do not naturally infect Anopheles mosquitoes, which are the type that spreads malaria to humans. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg ...

Recommended for you

A new theory on reducing cardiovascular disease risk in binge drinkers

January 23, 2018
A new study shows that binge drinkers have increased levels of a biomarker molecule—microRNA-21—that may contribute to poor vascular function.

Flu infection study increases understanding of natural immunity

January 23, 2018
People with higher levels of antibodies against the stem portion of the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) protein have less viral shedding when they get the flu, but do not have fewer or less severe signs of illness, according ...

New long-acting approach for malaria therapy developed

January 22, 2018
A new study, published in Nature Communications, conducted by the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine highlights a new 'long acting' medicine for the prevention of malaria.

Virus shown to be likely cause of mystery polio-like illness

January 22, 2018
A major review by UNSW researchers has identified strong evidence that a virus called Enterovirus D68 is the cause of a mystery polio-like illness that has paralysed children in the US, Canada and Europe.

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.