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2,000-year-old human remains confirm presence of malaria during the Roman Empire

McMaster Anthropology researchers, Hendrik Poinar and Tracy Prowse help uncover evidence of malaria in Italy during height of Roman Empire.

Dec 05, 2016

An analysis of 2,000-year-old human remains from several regions across the Italian peninsula has confirmed the presence of malaria during the Roman Empire, addressing a longstanding debate about its pervasiveness in this ancient civilization.

The answer is in mitochondrial genomic evidence of malaria, coaxed from the teeth of bodies buried in three Italian cemeteries, dating back to the Imperial period of the 1st to 3rd centuries Common Era.

The genomic data is important, say researchers, because it serves as a key reference point for when and where the parasite existed in humans, and provides more information about the evolution of human disease.

“Malaria was likely a significant historical pathogen that caused widespread death in ancient Rome,” says evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar, director of McMaster’s Ancient DNA Centre where the work was conducted.

A serious and sometimes fatal infectious disease that is spread by infected mosquitoes, malaria and...  Continue reading in the McMaster Daily News.