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Evolution From Malaria to Manuscripts

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DNA replication is accurate, but not completely so, and the accumulation of changes in DNA sequences can be used to work out the evolutionary relationships between different groups of organisms. I am particularly interested in using this approach to understand the evolution of plant chloroplasts from symbiotic photosynthetic bacteria over a billion years ago. Surprisingly, some very important organisms, such as the malaria parasite, turn out to have a photosynthetic ancestry, which may be an “Achilles heel” we can exploit in developing antimalarial agents. DNA is not the only thing that replicates in an error-prone way. In the days before printing, scribes copied manuscripts by hand, and changes accumulated in texts just like mutations accumulating in DNA . The same programmes we use for studying DNA sequences can also be used for studying the relationships between different versions of a manuscript text.

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