60-Second Science

Malaria Parasite Infects People Thought Resistant

People who do not express the Duffy blood-group protein were thought to be safe from infection by Plasmodium vivax. That appears to no longer be the case. Steve Mirsky reports

A new development in malaria:

Plasmodium vivax, the world’s most common malara parasite, now infects people previously considered to be resistant.”

Peter Zimmerman from Case Western Reserve University school of medicine spoke at the AAAS meeting in Washington on February 19th.

“So, red blood cells of most African people do not express the Duffy blood-group protein. Now, the Duffy blood-group protein is essentially necessary for Plasmodium vivax to get into the red cell. Duffy-negative Africans have been considered to be resistant to Plasmodium vivax.”

Zimmerman studied Malagasy populations on Madagascar. He found that 10 percent of Duffy-negative subjects were in fact infected with Plasmodium vivax.

“So we’ve shown that Plasmodium vivax has cleared Duffy negativity. If Plasmodium vivax is evolving to learn how to infect the Duffy-negative red cell, then a large continent of people suddenly becomes susceptible to a new form of malaria.”

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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