Scientists at Macquarie University in Melbourne have discovered why malaria is more common and lethal in Africa than in other regions.
AAP reports they have found that a molecule on red blood cells called Duffy holds the key to killing one type of malaria parasite, P falciparum. People living in Africa lack this molecule.
Associate Professor Brendan McMorran said it is widely known that platelets defend people infected with malaria by killing the parasite as it grows in red blood cells, but it is not known how.
His team found that platelets release a molecule called PF4 that kills the parasite, but PF4 needs to bind to another molecule, Duffy, on red blood cells for this to happen.
AAP reports that studies have shown between 98% - 100% of people living in Africa lack Duffy.
This genetic change, however, provides them with resistance to another malaria parasite called P Vivax.
The research was published on Friday in the journal Science.
There were more than half a million deaths from malaria worldwide in 2010. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 90% of them were in Africa.