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August 3rd, 2009
06:32 PM ET

Researcher says he found malaria's origin: in chimps

Researchers compared malaria DNA from infected chimps in Cameroon and Ivory Coast with human malaria.

Researchers compared malaria DNA from infected chimps in Cameroon and Ivory Coast with human malaria.

Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer

Nathan Wolfe is a hunter, but he doesn't carry a gun. His prey are invisible to the naked eye.

Wolfe leads expeditions into the mysterious world of viruses and pathogens.

"They are everywhere," said Wolfe, a microbiologist who speaks of his targets - infectious organisms - with the giddy lilt of a teenager on a first date. "We have the potential to explore a completely new biological world and go out and really find new things all the time."

One bug has been Wolfe's singular obsession for more than a decade, arguably the biggest menace to humans: malaria.

"If you think about HIV virus as a singular hurricane event, malaria is like the hurricane that's been hitting for thousands of years - constantly," said Wolfe, who heads a research institute called the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative.

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Marjorie Stevens

    Spread the Net ... I think that the name of the charity re: Mrs. Bush that Miriam Cooper is thinking of.

    Don't know what to think, but it makes sense because man came out of Africa and Rome and England had malaria for thousands of years ... Nothing odd with the mosquito-born disease coming with the migration.

    August 3, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  2. Alfaromcfields lest looking and...

    This is more a Break through that will change the world...

    August 3, 2009 at 10:25 pm |
  3. Miriam Cooper, NY

    Hi Anderson,

    I did the article about Laura Bush distributing mosquito nets for malarial infection earlier in 2007. I wonder whether this is just a temporary cure or really is the fix for these diseases. I too have slept in these nets for years and years. There is not much you can avoid in countries that have these mosquitoes. Especially in countries which has electricty outage at the pee-wee hours of the day, you are tempted to remove the nets and sleep and soon to be a prey for these mosquitoes. Oh, they are huge, huge, huge. Also, some of the homes have bugs in them – either the mosquito is sucking the blood or the bed mites. Wonder whether a temporary net will help. These are also meshes – the entire house is convered in mosquito mess – simple reason, there is an open sewage close-by or usually in middle eastern/Asian countries most of the homes have an open well for drinking water. You cannot close the well as you need the small amount of sunlight it gets to make it to the well – wherever these is water stagnation, you are going to have mosquitoes. Simple reason being, after floods or a good shower there really are no mosquitoes, only when there is an open sewage or stagnant water (which is very common in Asian countries because of drinking water issues), you will have to deal with it. Hence vaccination comes as a priority. These vaccines maybe need to be revisited, but on a overall basics the amount of malaria reported in the past 30 years has reduced drastically. Even in countries which have high exposture to polio if you see the next generation of moms and the current generation there is a reduction in polio people. Malaria is not going to be a 100% successful project but with external medication like vaccines because of the natural formation of those countries.
    DRINKING WATER – You cannot trade on this – water is needed in each home either in forms of wells or some homes buy a "truck load" of drinking water and fill the tanks which almost all homes in Asia have. They also have "sumps" which are undergound cement storage for water – how much every you cover the water, mosquitos are sure to get in to lay their eggs. Some of the Asian countries give plenty of 'booster' dosages for polio and current I would say it is a very big battle won. Either you treat the mother with a booster shot during pregnancy, after birth and also something over the first 10 years – You can increase resistance, but you are not going to win the mosquito war – as long as there is need for drinking water, and storage units have to be built in each home and you are talking stagnant water you will have mosquitos. All these tanks are washing with "bleaching agents" once a month and aired to take care that these mosquitoes dont hang around for a long time and also moss grows inside the tank – there is a lot of survial going on for mosquitoes which I guess each country has adapted to adjust.

    August 3, 2009 at 8:40 pm |
  4. John Bleau

    Well, I guess that if CNN reports it, it must be true, but I see it otherwise. Humans have probably been far more exposed to African monkey tissue via vaccines (African green monkey) than from Africans eating monkeys. I doubt humans have been eating gorillas (blamed just today for a strain of HIV) chimps all that much anyway.

    August 3, 2009 at 8:16 pm |
  5. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    I understand Dr. Wolfe's enthusiasm completely. It is a very exciteing field of study. If I had my education choice to do over again that's what I would like to choose. It's great just reading about it but it's a whole other thing entirely to be out in the field studying it.

    Donna Wood
    Lexington, Tennessee

    August 3, 2009 at 7:03 pm |
  6. Sabrina In Los Angeles

    It seems that Africa is the "ground zero" for most of these infections.

    I wonder, does it have to do with the close proximity of humans and the animals or is it in them eating these animals that the infections are transmitted?

    It seems a bit of both but mostly the latter.

    August 3, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    Its interesting that Wolfe found the cross-over link for malaria but I'm not sure what benefit it gives us other than just knowing the origin. What about ebola – a disease we have no cure for – would knowing its pathway from animal to human advance our efforts in coming up with a cure? In animals, I understand, ebola is fairly benign but once it passes from animal to human, it is anything but benign to the human, usually resulting in what can only be described as a hideous painful death. While less common than malaria, gratefully, ebola is still a scourge we need good medicine for – to restore health rather than watch it slip away while others become infected as well.

    August 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm |