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African apes as reservoirs of Plasmodium falciparum and the origin and diversification of the Laverania subgenus


We investigated two mitochondrial genes (cytb and cox1), one plastid gene (tufA), and one nuclear gene (ldh) in blood samples from 12 chimpanzees and two gorillas from Cameroon and one lemur from Madagascar. One gorilla sample is related to Plasmodium falciparum, thus confirming the recently reported presence in gorillas of this parasite. The second gorilla sample is more similar to the recently defined Plasmodium gaboni than to the P. falciparum-Plasmodium reichenowi clade, but distinct from both. Two chimpanzee samples are P. falciparum. A third sample is P. reichenowi and two others are P. gaboni. The other chimpanzee samples are different from those in the ape clade: two are Plasmodium ovale, and one is Plasmodium malariae. That is, we have found three human Plasmodium parasites in chimpanzees. Four chimpanzee samples were mixed: one species was P. reichenowi; the other species was P. gaboni in three samples and P. ovale in the fourth sample. The lemur sample, provisionally named Plasmodium malagasi, is a sister lineage to the large cluster of primate parasites that does not include P. falciparum or ape parasites, suggesting that the falciparum + ape parasite cluster (Laverania clade) may have evolved from a parasite present in hosts not ancestral to the primates. If malignant malaria were eradicated from human populations, chimpanzees, in addition to gorillas, might serve as a reservoir for P. falciparum.

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