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No. 36: Nov-Dec 1984

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Evolution Of Man And Malaria

Malarial parasites are customarily classified according to the species infected and then further subdivided by morphology and biological characteristics. The two assumptions implicit in this classification procedure, which is supposed to mirror actual historical evolution, are:

  1. Malarial parasites evolved in parallel with their hosts; and
  2. Morphology is a measure of evolutionary relatedness.

With modern biochemical techniques it is possible to test these assumptions by comparing the DNA structures of the different malarial parasites. P. falcipa rum, the parasite transmitting the most deadly human malaria, turns out to be more closely related to rodent and avian malaria than the other primate malarias. Therefore, assumption #1 above is in correct in this view. Assumption #2 is also wrong because some species of malaria parasites which are very similar morphologically are quite different DNAwise.

(McCutchan, Thomas F., et al; "Evolutionary Relatedness of Plasmodium Species as Determined by the Structure of DNA," Science, 225:808, 1984.)

Comment. The article does not draw attention to still another assumption; namely, that similarities are measures of evolutionary relatedness. If this as sumption isn't correct, evolutionary family trees based on bodily structure, which means most of the family trees in the textbooks, may not truly reflect what really happened in the development of life. Further, if malarial parasites did evolve along with their hosts, hu man evolution seems farther removed from the evolution of the other primates than usually supposed.

From Science Frontiers #36, NOV-DEC 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:

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  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987