As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Malaria family tree has bird roots

Date:March 24, 2016
Source:Cornell University

Extensive testing of malarial DNA found in birds, bats and other small mammals from five East African countries revealed that malaria has its roots in bird hosts. It then spread from birds to bats and on to other mammals.

A study published this week in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution reveals a new hypothesis on the evolution of hundreds of species of malaria -- including the form that is deadly to humans.

Extensive testing of malarial DNA found in birds, bats and other small mammals from five East African countries revealed that malaria has its roots in bird hosts. It then spread from birds to bats and on to other mammals.

"We can't begin to understand how malaria spread to humans until we understand its evolutionary history," said lead author Holly Lutz, a doctoral candidate in the fields of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell University. "In learning about its past, we may be better able to understand the effects it has on us."

Lutz and her colleagues took blood samples from hundreds of East African birds, bats, and other small mammals and screened the blood for the parasites. When they found malaria, they took samples of the parasites' DNA and sequenced it to identify mutations in the genetic code. From there, Lutz determined how different malaria species are related based on differences in their genetic code. Having large sample sizes from many species was key.

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