Many White-Tailed Deer Are Infected with Malaria Parasite; Only Native Malaria Parasite Ever Found in Any Mammal in North or South America; Scientists Conclude That Malaria Has Been in Americas for Millions of Years

Two years ago, Ellen Martinsen, Ph.D., was collecting mosquitoes at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washingon, DC, looking for malaria parasites that might infect birds, when she discovered something strange: a DNA profile, from parasites in the mosquitoes, that she couldn't identify. By chance, she had discovered a malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei--that infects white-tailed deer. It's the first-ever malaria parasite known to live in a deer species and the only native malaria parasite found in any mammal in North or South America. Though white-tailed deer diseases have been heavily studied--scientist hadn't noticed that many have malaria parasites. Dr. Martinsen and her colleagues now estimate that the P. odocoilie parasite infects up to twenty-five percent of white-tailed deer along the East Coast of the United States. Their results were published online on February 5, 2016 in Science Advances. The article is titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Cryptic and Endemic Malaria Parasites in North American White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianu.” “You never know what you're going to find when you're out in nature--and you look," says Dr. Martinsen, a research associate at the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute and an adjunct faculty member in the University of Vermont's (UVM’s) Biology Department. "It's a parasite that has been hidden in the most iconic game animal in the United States. I just stumbled across it." The newly published study, led by Dr. Martinsen, was a collaboration among scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Park Service, the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee--and UVM biologist and malaria expert Joseph Schall, Ph.D. Although Dr. Martinsen and Dr.
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