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Paris, 4 July 2011

The origin of malaria : the hunt continues

The agent of malaria has been found in the greater spot-nosed monkey, also known as putty-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans), a small African primate derived from a line different to that of humans, gorillas and chimpanzees. This discovery challenges current thinking on the origin of the parasite and introduces a key element in the fight against malaria: knowing how it has adapted to the human species will make it possible to target its weaknesses. This work stems from research carried out by CNRS researchers in association with other organizations(1) and is published on the 4 July 2011 in the journal PNAS.

Malaria, also known as paludism, is one of the greatest global scourges. This pathology, which causes a million human deaths each year, is especially rampant in Africa. The question of whether the primary infection originated from rodents or birds has long remained unanswered. Also found in gorillas, it was thought that the parasite was specific to hominids(2).

By working on the subject, a team of CNRS researchers headed by Franck Prugnolle and François Renaud of the Laboratoire MIVEGEC(1)(CNRS/IRD/Université Montpellier 1), jointly with the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville in Gabon, and in collaboration with other organizations(4), has demonstrated the presence of Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of malaria, in the greater spot-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans), a small African monkey derived from a line different to that of humans. The origin of the parasite probably predates the origins of the African hominids line.

The presence of Plasmodium falciparum in this Old World Monkey opens the way to the analysis of the genome of the parasite found in this species. Comparing its sequence with that (already known) of falciparum in humans will enable researchers to discover the molecular signatures of the human parasite and to find out how it has adapted to humans. Knowing the weaknesses of the parasite will be a major asset in combating malaria.

cercopitheque

© Jean-Louis Albert, CIRMF, Gabon

The greater spot-nosed monkey, Cercopithecus nictitans.


 

Notes:

(1)Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville au Gabon, IRD, Université Montpellier 1, Université de la Méditerranée, Université de Toulouse, University of California and Université de Brazzaville.
(2)The hominids line comprises two branches: humans and large monkeys (gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans).
(3)Laboratoire “Maladies Infectieuses et Vecteurs: Ecologie, Génétique, Evolution et Contrôle”
(4)Université de la Méditerranée, Université de Toulouse, University of California and Université de Brazzaville.

References:

African monkeys are infected by Plasmodium falciparum nonhuman primate-specific strains. F.Prugnolle, B.Ollomo, P.Durand, E.Yalcindag, C.Arnathau, E.Elguero, A.Berry, X.Pourrut, J-P.Gonzalez, D.Nkoghe, J.Akiana, D.Verrier, E.Leroy, F.J.Ayala and F.Renaud. PNAS, 4 July 2011.

Contact information:

CNRS researcher
François Renaud l T. 04 67 41 62 53l Francois.Renaud@ird.fr
CNRS press officer
Hélène Pouey l T. 01 44 96 49 88 l Helene.Pouey-Laurentjoye@cnrs-dir.fr
IRD press officer
Cristelle Duos l T. 04.91.99.94.87 l Cristelle.Duos@ird.fr


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