Genetic Code Of Chromosome Of Malaria Parasite Deciphered

November 05, 1998

A multicenter team of researchers, supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has determined the complete genetic sequence of a chromosome of the most deadly malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. This advance may help identify new targets for anti-malaria drugs and vaccines, which are badly needed to fight a disease that claims up to 3 million lives each year.

The new data are reported in the Nov. 6, 1998 issue of the journal Science by Malcolm J. Gardner, Ph.D., of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR, Rockville, Md.), Navy Captain Stephen L. Hoffman, M.D., of the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC, Bethesda, Md.), and their colleagues at NMRC, TIGR, New York University, Johns Hopkins University, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Library of Medicine at NIH.

Drs. Gardner, Hoffman and their collaborators sequenced chromosome 2 of P. falciparum. Theirs is the first report to describe the complete genetic sequence of a parasite chromosome.

Project funding was initiated by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of NIH and the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health, and was subsequently augmented by the U.S. Department of Defense. An international consortium of agencies, including NIAID, is supporting efforts to sequence the other 13 chromosomes of this parasite.

"This sequence information promises to provide new leads to fighting malaria, a disease that exacts a huge burden worldwide, in human and economic terms," says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director. "This sequencing effort is part of a broad-based NIH strategy to control malaria and other important diseases that threaten global health, including tuberculosis and AIDS."

"This study demonstrates the feasibility of sequencing the entire genome of Plasmodium falciparum," adds Michael Gottlieb, Ph.D., Parasite Biology Program Officer at NIAID. "The researchers have identified more than 200 genes, many of which are probably essential to parasite functions, including genes that mediate interactions with host cells and contribute to disease.

"Of particular note, the researchers found a group of genes that encode a large family of surface proteins called rifins, which may help the parasite escape the immune response. A better understanding of these genes and their protein products will help us develop new strategies to control malaria," Dr. Gottlieb adds.

Genetic sequencing reveals the lineup of paired chemical bases that make up the pathogen's DNA - the language of life. Sequence information can be exploited in many ways, such as finding new targets for drugs, identifying the mutations that contribute to a pathogen's virulence or ability to resist drugs, and determining components of a pathogen to incorporate into vaccines.

Besides sequencing the genome of P. falciparum, NIAID-supported scientists are also obtaining DNA sequence information from the genomes of P. vivax (another of the four different plasmodium parasites that cause human malaria), and from P. berghei, which causes malaria in rodents and provides a laboratory model of human disease. NIAID also supports the sequencing of more than 20 other medically important pathogens.

Between 300 and 500 million new cases of malaria occur each year, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Every 30 seconds, a child dies of the disease. No effective vaccine exists to prevent malaria, and the disease has become increasingly difficult to treat because of the spread of drug resistance.

Under the leadership of NIH Director Harold Varmus, M.D., NIH has fortified its commitment to malaria research, with expanded efforts to study the genomes of malaria parasites, delineate mechanisms of drug resistance and develop a malaria vaccine.

Other important NIH malaria initiatives include:

**Laboratory, field-based and clinical research in malaria pathogenesis, parasite biology, vector biology, diagnostics, immunology, and drug discovery and development. This research is conducted on the NIH campus and elsewhere in the United States, Mali, Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Brazil.

**Participation in the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, a global consortium that enhances international collaboration among malaria scientists around the world and identifies resources to enhance malaria research.

**A repository of malaria reagents to improve access to research material for investigators worldwide.

**A new communications network on the World Wide Web for the malaria research community. The URL is

**Expanded collaboration between NIH and outside scientists on malaria vaccine development.
NIAID is a component of the NIH. NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, asthma and allergies. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Related Malaria Articles from Brightsurf:

Clocking in with malaria parasites
Discovery of a malaria parasite's internal clock could lead to new treatment strategies.

Breakthrough in malaria research
An international scientific consortium led by the cell biologists Volker Heussler from the University of Bern and Oliver Billker from the UmeƄ University in Sweden has for the first time systematically investigated the genome of the malaria parasite Plasmodium throughout its life cycle in a large-scale experiment.

Scientists close in on malaria vaccine
Scientists have taken another big step forward towards developing a vaccine that's effective against the most severe forms of malaria.

New tool in fight against malaria
Modifying a class of molecules originally developed to treat the skin disease psoriasis could lead to a new malaria drug that is effective against malaria parasites resistant to currently available drugs.

Malaria expert warns of need for malaria drug to treat severe cases in US
The US each year sees more than 1,500 cases of malaria, and currently there is limited access to an intravenously administered (IV) drug needed for the more serious cases.

Monkey malaria breakthrough offers cure for relapsing malaria
A breakthrough in monkey malaria research by two University of Otago scientists could help scientists diagnose and treat a relapsing form of human malaria.

Getting to zero malaria cases in zanzibar
New research led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Ifakara Health Institute and the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Program suggests that a better understanding of human behavior at night -- when malaria mosquitoes are biting -- could be key to preventing lingering cases.

Widely used malaria treatment to prevent malaria in pregnant women
A global team of researchers, led by a research team at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), are calling for a review of drug-based strategies used to prevent malaria infections in pregnant women, in areas where there is widespread resistance to existing antimalarial medicines.

Protection against Malaria: A matter of balance
A balanced production of pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines at two years of age protects against clinical malaria in early childhood, according to a study led by ISGlobal, an institution supported by ''la Caixa'' Foundation.

The math of malaria
A new mathematical model for malaria shows how competition between parasite strains within a human host reduces the odds of drug resistance developing in a high-transmission setting.

Read More: Malaria News and Malaria Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to