IBE (CSIC-UPF) and CEXS-UPF: Light shed on what European malaria was like, 50 years after its eradication

IBE (CSIC-UPF) and CEXS-UPF: Light shed on what European malaria was like, 50 years after its eradication

News from IBE (CSIC-UPF) and CEXS-UPF

The parasites Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum, the main causes of malaria, were eradicated from Europe in the mid twentieth century. Today, for the first time, an international study has succeeded in recovering genetic data from European samples thanks to a group of microscope slides dating from the 1940s. These originate on the Ebro Delta on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and hold drops of blood from malaria patients. The work, which is led by the IBE, and carried out alongside The Centre for Geo-Genetics in Denmark, has been published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The analysis involved the second generation sequencing of three of these slides, and allowed millions of sequences of malaria-causing parasites to be generated. It also made it possible to reconstruct their mitochondrial genome and compare it with those of present-day samples worldwide.

“The European sequence of P. vivax is closely related to the most common strain currently found Central and South America. This suggests that the pathogen was introduced to the Americas by European colonists after Columbus. In contrast, the European sequence of P. falciparum belongs to a strain which has only been found in India. This indicates that the pathogen of the most severe form of malaria was introduced to Europe from the Indian subcontinent, probably some 2,500 years ago”, explains CSIC investigator Carles Lalueza-Fox, from the IBE (a shared CSIC / University of Pompeu Fabra centre).

More information:
IBE Website and CEXS-UPF Website

Reference Article:
Gelabert, P.; Sandoval-Velasco, M.; Olalde, I.; Fregel, R.; Rieux, A.; Escosa, R.; Aranda, C.; Paaijmans, K.; Mueller, I.; Gilbert, M.T.P.; Lalueza-Fox, C. (2016). Mitochondrial DNA from the eradicated European Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum from 70-year-old slides from the Ebro Delta in Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1611017113