science museum

Sickle-cell carriers and malaria

In the UK, about one-in-nine people of African or Afro-Caribbean descent is an unaffected carrier of sickle-cell. The number of carriers in these ethnic groups is probably so high because carrying the sickle-cell gene variant provided their ancestors with some protection from the disease malaria. When the malaria parasite invades the red blood cells of a sickle-cell carrier, the cells become 'sickle' shaped. These odd-shaped cells are then destroyed in the spleen, killing the parasite at the same time.

Carriers of sickle-cell disease are protected from the malaria parasite which is passed on by mosquitoes.
Carriers of sickle-cell disease are protected from the malaria parasite which is passed on by mosquitoes.
The Natural History Museum London

Science Museum Home Page Who am I? Science Museum Home Page