BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A scientists working for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has discovered that even America’s most iconic game can harbor malaria. New research suggests that malaria has been discovered in white-tailed deer and that approximately 18 to 25 percent of the white-tailed deer population carries this disease.
The story of this amazing discovery dates back to 2014, when Ellen Martisen, a postdoctoral student working for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo was studying how birds could become infected with malaria. Martinsen declared that she was studying a couple of slides containing a strain of the parasite, when she literally stumbled upon a DNA strand she could not identify.
It took some work, but the scientists were able to identify the elusive DNA strand as belonging to the white-tailed deer, which is considered to be America’s most iconic game. The malaria strand she discovered is called the Plasmodium odocoilei, and, according to her statements, it is the only known strand of malaria which is actually capable of disseminating among the white-tailed deer population, endemic to North and South America.
From a routine lab job involving a few slides with malaria, it quickly turned into a full-blown study, involving no less than 5 prestigious institutions from all over the US, including Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, the National Park Service and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Furthermore, the study also enlisted the help of Joseph Schall, the foremost expert on malaria.
The study and its findings were published in the Science Advances journal on the 5th of January. Martinsen together with Schall and other biologists have begun to research the possibility of the disease spreading from game to humans. While Schall declares the risk is minimal, the team has not yet dismissed the possibility.
But now, the two scientists and the team are concentrating on tracking down the origin of the elusive malaria parasite and how it was capable of infecting the white-tailed deer. According to Schall, there was another study which suggested that white-tailed deer are susceptible to malaria, back in 1967. Although the scientific community dismissed the findings of the study, it would seem that its results echo through time.
Malaria has been discovered in white-tailed deer and according to the scientists, approximately 18 to 25 percent of the deer population carry this potentially deadly parasite. And it would that the infected white-tailed deer population spreads evenly along the East Coast.
Investigating the genetic profile of the disease, the scientists discovered two separate malaria lineages, each of them dating 2.3 to 6 million years ago. They have theorized that the parasite may have come along for the ride approximately 5.7 million years ago, when the white-tailed deer’s ancestors traveled from Eurasia to the North America, by traversing the Bering Land Bridge.