To quell the many arguments that have floated around university laboratories in years gone by, a researcher has finally settled the score with regards to the much-blamed chimp and its disease transferring ways - by revealing that it was in actual fact the gorilla that passed on malaria to humankind.
Studying DNA from the droppings of roughly 3000 apes - including gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos - Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham has discovered that the strain of malaria parasite most common in humans is virtually identical to one of many strains that infects gorillas. Hahn even goes as far to confirm that consequently, the bonobo and much-loved chimp is out of the picture, with strains that cannot compare to the gorilla's near-identical matter.
Hahn's team tested genetic material from the human immunodeficiency virus for their AIDS studies and took a similar approach for the latest work, looking for DNA from malaria parasites, including the plasmodium falciparum that causes most human cases.
"Wild apes, in particular the common chimps and the western gorillas, are naturally infected with at least eight or nine different Plasmodium species," said Hahn. "Now, how many mosquitoes were biting however many humans or gorillas I do not know. But the end result is, based on sequence analysis of 105 human Plasmodium parasites, that it looks like there was a single transmission."
Malaria, which kills 800,000 people a year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), currently still has no known cure or vaccine, although drugs can aid in prevention and controlling the infection. However, these new findings could eventually get the ball rolling towards the complete eradication of malaria - as Larry Slutsker, head of the malaria program at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed.
"If we were trying to eradicate, meaning we were trying to rid the planet of every last parasite and there was a reservoir of western gorillas, that would have implications for eradication. I don't think we are there, obviously."
While further research is now inevitable, it's a huge step forward in the fields of malaria research and comprehension - and a huge relief for the chimpanzee population.
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