An evaluation of 2000 year old human remains from the Italian peninsula has proved the prevalence of malaria during the Roman Empire. Bodies of 58 adults and 10 children buried in three Italian cemeteries that date back to the 1st to 3rd centuries were recovered. They found mitochondrial genomic evidence of malaria in the teeth of those bodies.
Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist who is the director of McMaster’s Ancient DNA Center which carried out the research, says that it is likely that malaria caused a significant amount of death in ancient Rome. Stephanie Marciniak, a former post doctoral student here, adds that extensive written evidence supports the existence of the malaria parasite in ancient Rome and Greece. However, the specific species that caused the disease is unknown.
The current research confirms that the malaria species was likely to be Plasmodium falciparum. They found that it affected people from diverse environments in the Imperial Rome. This genomic data is of significance as it serves as an important reference point for the period and place where the parasite existed in humans. And, it also provides more knowledge on the evolution of human disease.