Sequencing of malaria genomes reveals challenges, opportunities in battle against parasite

August 5, 2012

Genetic variability revealed in malaria genomes newly sequenced by two multi-national research teams points to new challenges in efforts to eradicate the parasite, but also offers a clearer and more detailed picture of its genetic composition, providing an initial roadmap in the development of pharmaceuticals and vaccines to combat malaria.

The research appears in two studies published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Genetics. They focus on Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax), a species of malaria that afflicts humans and the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside Africa, and Plasmodium cynomolgi (P. cynomolgi), a close relative that infects Asian Old World monkeys.

"The bad news is there is significantly more in P. vivax than we'd thought, which could make it quite adept at evading whatever arsenal of drugs and vaccines we throw at it," said Professor Jane Carlton, senior author on both studies and part of New York University's Center for Genomics and . "However, now that we have a better understanding of the challenges we face, we can move forward with a deeper analysis of its genomic variation in pursuing more effective remedies."

In one study, the researchers examined P. vivax strains from different geographic locations in , South America, and Asia, providing the researchers with the first -wide perspective of global variability within this species. Their analysis showed that P. vivax has twice as much as the world-wide Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum) strains, revealing an unexpected ability to evolve and, therefore, presenting new challenges in the search for treatments.

The second study, performed jointly with Professor Kazuyuki Tanabe at Osaka University, Japan, sequenced three genomes of P. cynomolgi. The researchers compared its genetic make-up to P. vivax and to Plasmodium knowlesi (P. knowlesi), a previously sequenced malaria parasite that affects both monkeys and humans in parts of Southeast Asia.

Their work marked the first time P. cynomolgi genomes have been sequenced, allowing researchers to identify genetic diversity in this parasite. Its similarity to P. vivax means that their results will also benefit future efforts to understand and fight against forms of malaria that afflict humans.

"We have generated a genetic map of P. cynomolgi, the sister species to P. vivax, so we can now push forward in creating a robust model system to study P. vivax," explained Tanabe. "This is important because we can't grow P. vivax in the lab, and researchers desperately need a model system to circumvent this."

Explore further: Monkeys provide reservoir for human malaria in South-east Asia

More information: DOI: 10.1038/ng.2373 , DOI: 10.1038/ng.2375

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Epigenetics: New tool for precision medicine

June 27, 2016

Four new papers, co-published by an international consortium of biomedical researchers, mark the feasibility of epigenetic analysis for clinical diagnostics and precision medicine. Epigenetic analysis addresses key limitations ...

Researchers explore epigenetic influences of chronic pain

June 21, 2016

Chronic pain is one of the most prevalent, disabling and expensive public health crises in the United States. It affects more than 100 million Americans, with annual costs estimated at $635 billion, says a 2014 report from ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.