A fresh look at the origin of Plasmodium falciparum, the most malignant malaria agent

PLoS Pathog. 2011 Feb;7(2):e1001283. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001283. Epub 2011 Feb 24.


From which host did the most malignant human malaria come: birds, primates, or rodents? When did the transfer occur? Over the last half century, these have been some of the questions up for debate about the origin of Plasmodium falciparum, the most common and deadliest human malaria parasite, which is responsible for at least one million deaths every year. Recent findings bring elements in favor of a transfer from great apes, but are these evidences really solid? What are the grey areas that remain to be clarified? Here, we examine in depth these new elements and discuss how they modify our perception of the origin and evolution of P. falciparum. We also discuss the perspectives these new discoveries open.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / parasitology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / genetics
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / transmission
  • Pan troglodytes / parasitology
  • Phylogeny
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*
  • Protozoan Infections, Animal / genetics
  • Protozoan Infections, Animal / parasitology*
  • Protozoan Infections, Animal / transmission
  • Zoonoses / parasitology
  • Zoonoses / transmission