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News Release 09-128

Variation in the Same Gene Affects Rate of Parasite Infection in Both Humans and Baboons

Duke researchers connect important genetic variation to malaria resistance

illustration showing gene's role in parasite infection.

Variation in the same gene affects rate of parasite infection in both humans and baboons.

June 23, 2009

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Researchers at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy have found that variation in the same gene in humans and baboons produces the same kind of disease resistance. The findings were published in the June 24 online edition of the journal Nature.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), lead authors Gregory Wray, Susan Alberts and Jenny Tung drew on Alberts' longtime study of the yellow baboons in Kenya's Amboseli National Park to examine the baboons' susceptibility to a malaria-like parasite and to delve into the genetic basis for differences in the baboons' vulnerability to infection.

Graduate student Jenny Tung did field work over three summers in the East African savannah as part of her doctoral dissertation project, discovering that 60 percent of the Amboseli baboons were infected with the malaria-like parasite.

"It's exciting that this work includes a doctoral dissertation project," said Jean Turnquist, NSF program officer. "These researchers have made a very significant discovery that can only come from this kind of longterm study. It's a great example of seeing the connections between evolutionary genomics and disease susceptibility and resistance."

More information on this work is available in the Duke press release at


Media Contacts
Maria C. Zacharias, NSF, (703) 292-8454, email:
Kendall Morgan, Duke University, 919-684-2850, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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