Primate malarias as a model for cross-species parasite transmission.

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Parasites regularly switch into new host species, representing a disease burden and conservation risk to the hosts. The distribution of these parasites also gives insight into characteristics of ecological networks and genetic mechanisms of host-parasite interactions. Some parasites are shared across many species, whereas others tend to be restricted to hosts from a single species. Understanding the mechanisms producing this distribution of host specificity can enable more effective interventions and potentially identify genetic targets for vaccines or therapies. As ecological connections between human and local animal populations increase, the risk to human and wildlife health from novel parasites also increases. Which of these parasites will fizzle out and which have the potential to become widespread in humans? We consider the case of primate malarias, caused by Plasmodium parasites, to investigate the interacting ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that put human and nonhuman primates at risk for infection. Plasmodium host switching from nonhuman primates to humans led to ancient introductions of the most common malaria-causing agents in humans today, and new parasite switching is a growing threat, especially in Asia and South America. Based on a wild host-Plasmodium occurrence database, we highlight geographic areas of concern and potential areas to target further sampling. We also discuss methodological developments that will facilitate clinical and field-based interventions to improve human and wildlife health based on this eco-evolutionary perspective.





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Voinson, Marina, Charles L Nunn and Amy Goldberg (2022). Primate malarias as a model for cross-species parasite transmission. eLife, 11. p. e69628. 10.7554/elife.69628 Retrieved from

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Charles L Nunn

Gosnell Family Professor in Global Health

Amy Goldberg

Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

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