Parasites of the genus Plasmodium infect all classes of amniotes (mammals, birds and reptiles) and display host specificity in their infections. It is therefore generally believed that Plasmodium parasites co-evolved intimately with their hosts. Here, we report that based on an evolutionary analysis using 22 genes in the nuclear genome, extant lineages of Plasmodium parasites originated roughly in the Oligocene epoch after the emergence of their hosts. This timing on the age of the common ancestor of extant Plasmodium parasites suggest the importance of host switches and lends support to the evolutionary scenario of a "malaria big bang" that was proposed based on the evolutionary analysis using the mitochondrial genome.
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