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History of the Discovery of the Malaria Parasites and Their Vectors


History of the Discovery of the Malaria Parasites and Their Vectors

Francis Eg Cox. Parasit Vectors.


Malaria is caused by infection with protozoan parasites belonging to the genus Plasmodium transmitted by female Anopheles species mosquitoes. Our understanding of the malaria parasites begins in 1880 with the discovery of the parasites in the blood of malaria patients by Alphonse Laveran. The sexual stages in the blood were discovered by William MacCallum in birds infected with a related haematozoan, Haemoproteus columbae, in 1897 and the whole of the transmission cycle in culicine mosquitoes and birds infected with Plasmodium relictum was elucidated by Ronald Ross in 1897. In 1898 the Italian malariologists, Giovanni Battista Grassi, Amico Bignami, Giuseppe Bastianelli, Angelo Celli, Camillo Golgi and Ettore Marchiafava demonstrated conclusively that human malaria was also transmitted by mosquitoes, in this case anophelines. The discovery that malaria parasites developed in the liver before entering the blood stream was made by Henry Shortt and Cyril Garnham in 1948 and the final stage in the life cycle, the presence of dormant stages in the liver, was conclusively demonstrated in 1982 by Wojciech Krotoski. This article traces the main events and stresses the importance of comparative studies in that, apart from the initial discovery of parasites in the blood, every subsequent discovery has been based on studies on non-human malaria parasites and related organisms.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Schematic life cycle of Plasmodium spp.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Ronald Ross 1857-1932. Photograph by courtesy of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Portraits of other scientists who were involved in the elucidation of the life cycle of the malaria parasites can be found elsewhere [9,40].

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    1. Celli A. A History of Malaria in the Italian Campagna from Ancient Times. London. 1933.
    1. Stephens JWW. Blackwater Fever, A Historical Survey and Summary made over a Century. London: Hodder and Stoughton; 1937.
    1. Scott HH. A History of Tropical Medicine. Vol. 1. London: Edward Arnold; 1939.
    1. Russell PF. Man's Mastery of Malaria. London: Oxford University Press; 1965.
    1. Foster WD. A History of Parasitology. Edinburgh: Livingstone; 1965.

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