New Plasmodium species found in Bonobos

If malaria parasites are widespread among wild chimpanzees and gorillas, but not found in bonobos, closely related to chimpanzees, what would you conclude from that factoid? You could argue that bonobos have developed some resistance to Plasmodium, the causal agent of malaria. But what really happened was that scientists only searched for known species of the Plasmodium parasite. Which means they didn't detect a new species, because they weren't looking for it.
A more extensive survey, increasing both the number and places they sampled wild bonobo populations. Wild bonobos are found in the forests of central Africa, south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Not finding any evidence of malaria in wild bonobos just didn’t make sense, given that captive bonobos are susceptible to this infection,” professor Beatrice Hahn said.

Hahn’s team found that bonobos are, in fact, susceptible to a wide variety of Plasmodium malaria parasites, including a previously unknown Laverania species that is specific to bonobos. Laverania parasites can be considered part of the Plasmodium genus[1].

Until recently, there were six known ape Laverania species that exhibited strict host specificity (association with a single host species) in wild populations: three in chimpanzees and three in western gorillas. In 2010, Hahn and her colleagues discovered that gorillas were the origin of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the most prevalent and lethal of the malaria parasites that infect people[2]. Later the same team proved that Plasmodium vivax originated in Africa[3][4].
One surprising finding from the current study was that bonobos harbour Plasmodium gaboni, which was previously only found in chimpanzees, as well as a new Laverania species, termed Plamodium lomamiensis, in recognition of the recently established Lomami National Park.

As scientists consider how malaria can be eliminated from the human population, Hahn notes that it is possible that these newly discovered parasites could (again) jump from primates into humans.

[1] Liu et al: Wild bonobos host geographically restricted malaria parasites including a putative new Laverania species in Nature Communications - 2017
[2] Liu et al: Liu, W. et al. Origin of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in gorillas in Nature - 2010
[3] Liu et al: Liu, W. et al. African origin of the malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax in Nature Communications - 2014 
[4] Loy et al: Out of Africa: origins and evolution of the human malaria parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax in International Journal for Parasitology - 2017

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