Genetic affinities of an eradicated european plasmodium falciparum strain
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionMicrobial Genomics. 2019, 5 (9), . 10.1099/mgen.0.000289
Malaria was present in most of Europe until the second half of the 20th century, when it was eradicated through a combination of increased surveillance and mosquito control strategies, together with cross-border and political collaboration. Despite the severe burden of malaria on human populations, it remains contentious how the disease arrived and spread in Europe. Here, we report a partial Plasmodium falciparum nuclear genome derived from a set of antique medical slides stained with the blood of malaria-infected patients from Spain’s Ebro Delta, dating to the 1940s. Our analyses of the genome of this now eradicated European P. falciparum strain confirms stronger phylogeographical affinity to present-day strains in circulation in central south Asia, rather than to those in Africa. This points to a longitudinal, rather than a latitudinal, spread of malaria into Europe. In addition, this genome displays two derived alleles in the pfmrp1 gene that have been associated with drug resistance. Whilst this could represent standing variation in the ancestral P. falciparum population, these mutations may also have arisen due to the selective pressure of quinine treatment, which was an anti-malarial drug already in use by the time the sample we sequenced was mounted on a slide.