Malaria parasite found hiding out in North American deer

first_imgNorth America’s most popular game species, the white-tailed deer, harbors a secret: low levels of a malaria parasite that have only now been detected thanks to advanced DNA technology. Though this particular species of parasite poses little risk to humans, researchers say the find could reshape our understanding of malaria’s origins.There are more than 100 species of malaria parasites, distributed on every continent except Antarctica. Those that infect birds and lizards are widely distributed, even on seemingly isolated ocean islands, and certainly in the Americas. Yet scientists believed that the microorganisms that infect mammals originated in the Old World, mainly Africa and Asia.The new findings were discovered by chance. Researchers led by Ellen Martinsen, a biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s genetics center in Washington, D.C., were searching for the source of malaria parasites in birds at the national zoo. Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which amplifies DNA to make it easier to study, they identified a genetic signature of an unexpected malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei, previously unknown in the Americas. The researchers were able to obtain a large enough sample of blood from the mosquito’s enlarged abdomen to trace its origin to white-tailed deer. “We weren’t out there, testing a hypothesis,” Martinsen says. “We serendipitously stumbled upon this weird sequence.” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe E. Martinsen et al., Sci. Adv. (2016) Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) The study marks the first finding of a malaria parasite species of mammals that is native to the Americas. (Scientists had largely discounted the significance of a 1967 report of what appears to be the same parasite in single specimen of white-tailed deer in Texas.)The new research suggests that these malaria parasites have a long evolutionary history in the New World, dating back to the ancestors of white-tailed deer that made their way to the continent across the Bering Land Bridge 2.3 million to 6 million years ago  Other as-yet-to-be discovered malaria parasites of mammals may be “hidden in plain sight,” the researchers write.The findings are especially surprising in light of how intensively the popular game species has been studied, says David Hewitt, a wildlife biologist at Texas A&M University, Kingsville, who was not involved in the research. “This story suggests there is still much we don’t know about the natural world.”Martinsen says future research should examine whether low-level parasite infection has caused disease in deer that previously has been undetected. The map shows sites where researchers conducted DNA analysis on deer and closely related wild hooved animals, like elk. Red dots indicate infected animals. A star depicts the Texas site, where a single deer tested positive for malaria in 1967. Email To find out how common the infections are, the researchers screened more than 300 white-tailed deer with PCR. They found 41 animals harbored the parasite, from 10 of the 17 states surveyed. No infected deer were identified in the west, but in the east, malaria parasites were widespread. Twenty-five percent of the animals tested at sites in Virginia and West Virginia carried them, the team reports today in Science Advances.No signs of the parasite turned up in the other hooved species they tested, including cows, gazelles, goats, elk, oryx, alpaca, donkeys, and Przewalski horses.last_img

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