Evolution News

Malaria parasite present as early as 100 million years ago? Hung on ever since?

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culicine mosquito trapped in amber, 15 mya/Oregon State

From “Analysis Reveals Malaria, Other Diseases as Ancient, Adaptive and Persistent Foes” (ScienceDaily (Nov. 2, 2011), we learn

One of the most comprehensive analyses yet done of the ancient history of insect-borne disease concludes for the first time that malaria is not only native to the New World, but it has been present long before humans existed and has evolved through birds and monkeys.

The study outlines the evolution of several human diseases, including malaria, leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis. It makes clear that these pathogens have existed for at least 100 million years, and suggests that efforts to conquer them will be an uphill battle against such formidable and adaptive foes.

Which is interesting in the context of books like Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution, which explore the limits of purely Darwinian change in various life forms, including the malaria parasite. The reasonable conclusion is that some additional mechanism is also at work.

These findings come from insects trapped in amber, which can be accurately dated:

“Malaria is one of the greatest insect-borne killers in human history, and more than one million people a year are still dying from it,” Poinar said. “But the evolutionary record suggests it can easily change its protein coat in response to vertebrate immune reactions. That’s why it’s always becoming resistant to drugs, and efforts to create vaccines will be very difficult.”

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