Friday, August 14, 2009

Baboon genes help fight parasites

Some baboons are born with an in-built resistance to a malaria-like disease, scientists have found. It is the first known example of a genetic variant in a non-human primate species that is correlated with a complex trait — in this case, resistance to a parasitic disease.

Like ancestral humans, baboons are large-bodied primates that roam the grasslands of East Africa. The research reveals that both groups have evolved similar solutions to fighting off malaria parasites that are common in that region.

"Our study suggests that looking at genetic differences between non-human primates may help us learn more about the possible solutions that evolution has come up with for us to cope with these sorts of things," says Jenny Tung, a graduate student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who conducted the research with Gregory Wray, also of Duke, and Susan Alberts of Duke and the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.

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