Science Questions

Does beta thalassemia stop you getting malaria?

Sun, 18th Mar 2007

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Question

Steve, North Carolina asked:

My daughter and I have the beta thalassemia trait and I've read that this can prevent carries from getting malaria. Is this true or do I have the same chance of getting Malaria as everyone else?

Answer

Yes it is true, you get two copies of every gene; one from mum and one from dad. If you have two duff copies of this gene then you'll have quite serious thalassemia. If you have only one duff copy then it could actually protect you from blood parasites like malaria. It makes the red cell inhospitable so nothing can grow in there. Malaria as a parasite will be optimized to live in a certain type of cell and cellular environment, so if you change that by having different chemicals in there because the gene is slightly different the result is you will end up with a less hospitable home for the parasite to grow and as a result it doesn't grow so well.

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