According to a study published in Nature, new information about malaria has come from an unlikely source: gorilla dung. It was previously believed that malaria first jumped into the human population from chimpanzees. However, recent studies of dung samples have shown, in fact, that malaria spread from gorillas several thousand years ago. While this work certainly isn’t glamorous, it does shed some light on an important factor in ending malaria deaths.
The study showed that the malaria parasite likely jumped from gorillas to humans from a mutant parasite in just one gorilla thousands of years ago. So gorillas today carry a different kind of malaria parasite than the one that is transmitted to humans. This means that if we were to get rid of malaria, it is unlikely that the parasite would be reintroduced by gorillas again — it’s likely that it’ll be gone for good. Of course, in order to accomplish that goal, we need to continue to focus on malaria prevention methods like sending life-saving bed nets.