Malaria Much Older Than Thought

So let’s consider for a moment that you were already fearing the prospect of a malarial mosquito stinging you and causing you a nasty case of discomfort. Now think of that bearing in mind that the malaria you’re getting now is evolved from a more prehistoric version of itself — which was infecting its first reptilian vertebrates, dinosaurs, 100 million years ago.

Malaria is still a serious and terrifying killer that takes over 400,000 humans per year, so learning more about its roots is no small matter. In its current form it dates back 8 million years from the protozoa Plasmodium, but now new research from OSU suggests it goes much deeper.

George Poinar Jr., a researcher in OSU’s College of Science, is the source of the information.

“Scientists have argued and disagreed for a long time about how malaria evolved and how old it is,” Poinar said in a press release, continuing, “I think the fossil evidence shows that modern malaria vectored by mosquitoes is at least 20 million years old, and earlier forms of the disease, carried by biting midges, are at least 100 million years old and probably much older.”

He suggests the power of the ancestral malaria to kill could have shaped animal evolution of several other species. Which is frankly just the scariest thing I’ve ever heard.

“There were catastrophic events known to have happened around that time, such as asteroid impacts and lava flows,” Poinar said in the same release. “But it’s still clear that dinosaurs declined and slowly became extinct over thousands of years, which suggests other issues must also have been at work. Insects, microbial pathogens and vertebrate diseases were just emerging around that same time, including malaria.”

Sweet dreams. Zip your mosquito nets up tight.

By Sidney Reilly