Chromosome-wide SNPs reveal an ancient origin for Plasmodium falciparum

Nature. 2002 Jul 18;418(6895):323-6. doi: 10.1038/nature00836.


The Malaria's Eve hypothesis, proposing a severe recent population bottleneck (about 3,000-5,000 years ago) of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, has prompted a debate about the origin and evolution of the parasite. The hypothesis implies that the parasite population is relatively homogeneous, favouring malaria control measures. Other studies, however, suggested an ancient origin and large effective population size. To test the hypothesis, we analysed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from 204 genes on chromosome 3 of P. falciparum. We have identified 403 polymorphic sites, including 238 SNPs and 165 microsatellites, from five parasite clones, establishing chromosome-wide haplotypes and a dense map with one polymorphic marker per approximately 2.3 kilobases. On the basis of synonymous SNPs and non-coding SNPs, we estimate the time to the most recent common ancestor to be approximately 100,000-180,000 years, significantly older than the proposed bottleneck. Our estimated divergence time coincides approximately with the start of human population expansion, and is consistent with a genetically complex organism able to evade host immunity and other antimalarial efforts.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Composition
  • Chromosomes / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Protozoan / genetics
  • Genome, Protozoan
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Models, Genetic
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*