Malaria affects the blood, liver, and spleen but leaves no marks in skeletal remains. Thus, the presence of malaria in ancient human remains can only be identified using immunological or molecular tools. This was the first study to demonstrate malarial infection by finding DNA from the infectious organism – Plasmodium falciparum – in the remains of a person who had died some time ago (in 1937). Since this study, scientists have extracted P. falciparum DNA from much older human samples, such as 1,500-year-old bones from Rome and mummified Egyptian remains.
Did you know? The study of traces of microbial DNA in ancient human remains contributes to the treatment of human disease and the development of forensic science.