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A study of children in Kenya and Tanzania has identified a gene mutation that can significantly cut the risk of becoming seriously ill with malaria.

Researchers led by Brice Weinberg of the Veterans Affairs and Duke University Medical Centers in Durham, North Carolina, United States, found that children with the mutation were nearly 90 per cent less likely to develop severe forms of the disease.

The gene mutation causes people to increase production of the gas nitric oxide, which has previously been found to protect against malaria in rodents. The new study provides some of the best evidence to date that nitric oxide plays an important role in disease protection in humans.

Reference: Science 298, 1317 (2002)

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