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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Africans genetically susceptible to malaria
Mosquito
The mosquito spreads malaria
Many people of African and Asian origins have a genetic mutation which increases their susceptibility to malaria, say researchers.

The scientists conducted a genetic survey of thousands of men and women from ethnic backgrounds.

They found that the genetic mutation made them especially vulnerable to a particularly severe form of the disease known as cerebral malaria.

Malaria affects up to 300 million people a year, and causes two million deaths.

It is especially common in many African and Asian countries.

The disease is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, passed on through the mosquito's saliva when it bites a human being.

There are several different types of malaria. Cerebral malaria occurs when the malaria parasite infects the brain.

It can kill within 24 hours and is responsible for about half of all deaths caused by the disease.

Vital protein

The gene mutation discovered by the researchers produces a mutation of a protein known as CD36.

The survey revealed the mutation is carried by 7.5% of black Gambians, 19% of black Kenyans and 19% of Afro-Caribbeans in the UK.

The scientists, from the Medical Research Council's Sciences Centre at Hammersmith, had expected the CD36 mutation to protect people from developing malaria because the malarial parasite needs CD36 to perform some of its actions.

Researcher Dr James Scott said: "In fact people with the mutation are more susceptible than individuals without the mutation."

The scientists said the reason that CD36 mutations were quite common among Africans was that it might protect people against other diseases.

They hope their work will help to develop a vaccine against malaria.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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