Scientists also discovered the only known fossil of a type parasite that still infects blood cells today, causing a potentially fatal malaria-type condition called babesiosis–a report by Jim Leffman for The Mirror.
The world’s oldest sample of mammal blood has been discovered in a tick preserved in amber for 30 million years.
It is thought the parasite was picked off the back of a monkey being groomed in the forests of what is now the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.
The tick landed in tree sap, oozing blood which was then preserved in amber.
And as well as the monkey’s blood, scientists also discovered the only known fossil of a type parasite that still infects blood cells today, causing a potentially fatal malaria-type condition called babesiosis.
The discovery, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, showed how two small holes in the back of the tick allowed blood to ooze out just as it became stuck in the sap.
Study author George Poina, professor emeritus in the College of Science at Oregon State University, said: “ Two monkeys grooming each other about 20-30 million years ago may have helped produce a remarkable new find, the first fossilised red blood cells from a mammal, preserved so perfectly in amber that they appear to have been prepared for display in a laboratory.
“”The two tiny holes indicate that something picked a tick off the mammal it was feeding on, puncturing it in the process and dropping it immediately into tree sap.
“This would be consistent with the grooming behaviour of monkeys that we know lived at that time in this region.
“The fossilised blood cells, infected with these parasites, are simply amazing in their detail.
“This discovery provides the only known fossils of Babesia-type pathogens.”
The fossil parasites add to the history of the Order Piroplasmida, of which the Babesiidae is one family.
In humans, the parasite Babesi microti can cause babesiosis, a disease with symptoms that resemble malaria and can be fatal.
A related parasite in cattle can cause Texas cattle fever, which has been a historic problem in the plains states and just this spring is causing another outbreak that has led to quarantines on more than 500,000 acres of land in Texas.
Prof Poinar, an international expert on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber, added: “The life forms we find in amber can reveal so much about the history and evolution of diseases we still struggle with today.
“This parasite, for instance, was clearly around millions of years before humans, and appears to have evolved alongside primates, among other hosts.
“Part of what makes these fossils unique is the clarity by which the parasites and blood cells are preserved, almost as if they had been stained and otherwise treated in a laboratory for inspection.
“The parasites were different enough in texture and density to stand out clearly within the red blood cells during the natural embalming process for which amber is famous.”