Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) Research Associate Ellen Martinsen, who is also an adjunct faculty member in the University of Vermont’s biology department has been studying mosquitos looking for malaria that might infect birds. But, things got very unusual when she made a discovery through a DNA profile from parasites in the mosquitoes that was unidentifiable.
Recently, Martinsen stumbled upon a malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei, that infects the white-tailed deer. Her discovery was the first-ever malaria parasite known to be found in a deer species, as well as the only native parasite found in any mammal in North or South America! This new discovery changes science’s understanding of the distribution and evolutionary history of malaria parasite in mammals.