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In 2010, a study revealed that the main agent of malaria in humans, called Plasmodium falciparum , arose from the gorilla. Today, the vector which transmitted the parasite from apes to humans has just been identified. A Franco-Gabonese research consortium has determined which species of anopheles mosquitoes transfer the disease to apes. Among them is Anopheles moucheti , known for biting humans! Therefore, it must be the species which originally infected us through our cousins. And it could do it again today.
It is a much debated question: why did Central African forests become partially fragmented between 2,500 and 2,000 years ago, leaving room for more open forest landscapes and savannah? Recently, a publication attempted to explain that it was the farming Bantu peoples who were responsible for this, through the large-scale clearing that they undertook. But several IRD experts and their partners( 1) contest this argument in Science magazine. The fragmentation of the Central African forest was the result of drastic climate change. In fact, during this period a phase of general desiccation spread from the equatorial region right to the edges of the Sahel. Numerous data show that it was only 500 years later, in other words some 2,000 years ago, that Bantu colonisation became widespread. The first Bantu populations therefore merely took advantage of the opening up of the forest to enter these areas and start growing their crops.
Bats carry numerous diseases that have the potential for resurgence in humans and other animals. A study carried out in collaboration with IRD(
1) researchers and published in Nature communications has revealed the planetary threat they pose. Bats are the source of paramyxoviruses, which cause measles, mumps and numerous respiratory illnesses, some of the primary causes of infant mortality worldwide. These small flying mammals are reputed to have spread these infections throughout the animal kingdom.
Researchers have discovered 60 new types of paramyxovirus. But most importantly, they have recently observed forms of paramyxovirus in bats that are genetically highly similar to forms that were thought to be specific to humans. The existence of such an animal reservoir compromises the quest for eradication of certain human diseases such as measles. Other viruses such as the ravaging Hendra and Nipah viruses, rife in Asia and Australia, have also been observed in latent forms in Africa. Bats need to be placed under a high level of surveillance immediately.
One and a half million people per year are poisoned by snake venom in Sub-Saharan Africa. An IRD researcher recently analysed around 100 surveys and medical reports published over the past 40 years. No large-scale study of the situation had hitherto been conducted and public health authorities had underestimated the size of the problem. This means that currently only 10% of victims are treated, owing to a shortage of antivenoms * and lack of awareness among health care practitioners. Yet the clinical complications can be very serious, even fatal. A bite from a cobra or mamba can bring on death by asphyxia –due to respiratory paralysis– within 6h after the incident. Venom injected by the ocellated carpet viper, common in the African savannah, can cause haemorrhages leading to the victim’s death in a few days.
This new study provides authorities with more detailed and reliable figures which should enable them to readjust their health-care services in better tune with needs.
Rice is the world’s most commonly used cereal food, feeding half of humanity. However, rice production will have to double within 20 years from now to meet the needs of a growing population.
Two species are used for cultivation, one Asian and the other African. The Asian species gives much stronger agronomic performances, but the African one is more rustic, more resistant to pathogens, more tolerant to drought and soil salinity.
With the aim of transferring these properties to Asian rice, IRD scientists and their research partners( 1) are seeking to overcome the sterility between the two species( 2). They used genome sequencing to compare the structure of a portion of chromosome, identified as the factor behind the reproductive barrier. These investigations, the first results of which were published recently in the journal PLoS One , have led to the definition of genetic markers allowing more rapid development of fertile lineages of improved Asian rice.