The Malaria's Eve hypothesis, proposing a severe recent population bottleneck (about 3, 000-5, 000 years ago) of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, has prompted a debate about the origin and evolution of the parasite1-6. The hypothesis implies that the parasite population is relatively homogeneous, favouring malaria control measures. Other studies, however, suggested an ancient origin and large effective population sizes5, 7-10. To test the hypothesis, we analysed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from 204 genes on chromosome 3 of P. falciparum. We have identified 403 polymorphic sites, including 238 SNPs and 165 microsatellites, from five parasite clones, establishing chromosome-wide haplotypes and a dense map with one polymorphic marker per ∼2.3 kilobases. On the basis of synonymous SNPs and non-coding SNPs, we estimate the time to the most recent common ancestor to be ∼100, 000-180, 000 years, significantly older than the proposed bottleneck. Our estimated divergence time coincides approximately with the start of human population expansion11, and is consistent with a genetically complex organism able to evade host immunity and other antimalarial efforts.
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