Livingstone got it right

In 1958, anthropologist Frank Livingstone predicted that malaria originated in chimpanzees. Now scientists are proving him right…

Ague, tertian fever, quartan fever, paludism. Malaria has been known about since ancient times and has gone under many names. Today, it kills over a million people a year, most of them young children. Where it originally came from, though, has been a matter of scientific debate for half a century. In 1958 Frank Livingstone, a noted anthropologist, suggested that Plasmodium falciparum (which is by far the deadliest of the several parasites that cause human malaria) had jumped into Homo sapiens from chimpanzees. He speculated that the rise of agriculture had led to human encroachment on wild forests, giving the chimp version of the bug, P. reichenowi, the chance to find a new host. A rival camp, however, argued that P. falciparum was a variant of P. gallinaceum, a parasite found in chickens. A paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences shows that Livingstone got it right.

Read more in “Human malaria started in chimpanzees” – an article published on August 4, 2009 in The Economist print edition and online at