Every year, about 500 million people become ill with malaria, more than half of whom die. Despite the development of modern medicine, scientists predict a further increase in mortality.
It would seem that malaria is a disease that has shown its full force only in the 21st century. But in fact, malaria has its roots in the past - so far back that it can be considered the oldest disease that has survived virtually unchanged to this day.
Genetic studies of malaria plasmodium show that its ancestor must have appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago. It probably happened about 200 million years ago, together with the appearance of the first blood-sucking insects, when the ancestor of malarial plasmodium was able to adapt to a parasitic lifestyle.
But traces of the long past can be reconstructed not only by molecular genetic studies, but also through archaeology. A group of scientists from the U.S. during excavations in Myanmar managed to find a mosquito frozen in amber, about 100 million years old. The insect was preserved so well that scientists were able to analyze the contents of its stomach, in which malarial plasmodia were found. There is no doubt that at least 100 million years ago, the malaria parasite already had a modern structure and posed a great threat to other animals, which makes malaria the oldest disease that has come down to us.
These animals appear to have been dinosaurs. It is possible that, after a few tens of millions of years, malaria spread across the planet, coupled with global cataclysms, was one of the main reasons for the disappearance of these prehistoric monsters.