News FocusInfectious Diseases

Malaria's Beginnings: On the Heels of Hoes?

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Science  20 Jul 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5529, pp. 416-417
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5529.416

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By analyzing DNA of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria, researchers are trying to determine the role agriculture played in promoting this deadly disease. One new analysis, reported on page 482, supports the notion that epidemic malaria traces back to a small population of P. falciparum that suddenly expanded exponentially about 20,000 years ago. But another, in press at the Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggests that the parasite has been common for hundreds of thousands of years, and that malaria took much the same toll on our ancestors on African savannas as it does today across the globe.