What is the origin of malaria?
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite of the genus Plasmodium. There are five difference species of Plasmodium which infect humans – these all likely evolved from various different species of Plasmodium which infect other primates, such as gorillas (for P. falciparum) and macaques (P. vivax, P. knowlesi, possibly other types as well). This happened many thousands of years ago; humans have been plagued by malaria since before records began. In fact, the first recorded mention of the symptoms of malaria come from ancient China, in a manuscript dated to 2700 years before the common era, or almost 5000 years ago.
However, understanding that malaria was caused by a microscopic parasite, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, occurred much more recently; the Plasmodium parasite was first observed in the blood of a person who died from malaria in 1880 by the French physician Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran. A few years later, in 1897/1898, a British physician, Ronald Ross, demonstrated that the parasite could be transmitted between hosts via the bite of an infected mosquito. Both physicians eventually won Nobel Prizes for their work.