Nav: Home

Breakthrough in malaria research

November 14, 2019

Despite great efforts in medicine and science, more than 400,000 people worldwide are still dying of malaria. The infectious disease is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium. The genome of the parasite is relatively small with about 5,000 genes. In contrast to human cells, Plasmodium parasites only have a single copy of each individual gene. If one removes a gene from the entire genome of the parasite, this leads therefore directly to a change in the phenotype of the parasite. An international consortium led by Professors Volker Heussler from the Institute of Cell Biology (ICB) at the University of Bern and Oliver Billker from the Umeå University in Sweden and formerly at the Sanger Institute in Great Britain has taken advantage of this fact. The researchers have carried out a genome-wide gene deletion study on malaria parasites: They specifically removed over 1300 individual genes, observed the effects during the entire life cycle of the parasite and were thus able to identify many new targets in the pathogen. The present study was published in the prestigious journal Cell.

Individual genetic codes accelerate research by decades

The researchers used a malaria mouse model established at the Institute of Cell Biology at the University of Bern. Each of the 1300 parasite genes was replaced by an individual genetic code to analyze how the removal of the individual genes affects the parasite. The use of individual codes allows to study many parasites simultaneously and thus drastically shortens the time of their analysis. After three years of research, the international consortium succeeded in systematically screening the genome of the parasite in all life cycle stages. "The deletion screen carried out jointly with the Sanger Institute enabled us to identify hundreds of targets, particularly in the parasite's metabolism," said Rebecca Stanway from the ICB, one of the lead authors of this study.

Model calculations extend experimental findings

To systematically analyze the large number of identified metabolic genes, the Berne researchers have joined forces with Professor Vassily Hatzimanikatis of the EPFL in Lausanne and Professor Dominique Soldati-Favre of the University of Geneva to form the "MalarX" consortium, which is financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Using data of the malaria genome screen, the group at EPFL has calculated models that show essential metabolic pathways of the parasite. "Thanks to these models, it is now possible to predict which of the previously unexplored genes are vital for the parasite and are therefore suitable targets for malaria control" adds model expert Anush Chiappino-Pepe from the EPFL in Lausanne.

Some of these predictions were then experimentally confirmed by the Bern researchers in close collaboration with the group of Prof. Chris Janse at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. "The genome-wide screen with the corresponding metabolic models represents a breakthrough in malaria research," said Magali Roques of the team in Bern. "Our results will support many malaria researchers worldwide. They can now concentrate on essential parasite genes and thus develop efficient drugs and vaccines against various stages of the parasite's life" added Dr Ellen Bushell, former scientist at the Sanger Institute.

Success through top infrastructure and international cooperation

According to Volker Heussler, this research approach was only possible by a combination of the enormous sequencing and cloning capacities at the Sanger Institute and the extraordinary infrastructure at the ICB in Bern where the entire life cycle of the malaria parasite is established. In addition, the ICB is equipped with an exceptional range of high-performance microscopes, which enable top-level research on the various life cycle stages of the parasite. Thanks to this excellent infrastructure, the laboratory of Volker Heussler has already published many internationally recognized studies on the early phase of parasite infection.

22 international scientists from the fields of molecular biology, parasitology, statistics and mathematical modelling participated in this project. "This illustrates the effort in conducting this study, analyzing the data and model the experimental findings to bring them in a meaningful context" said Volker Heussler.
-end-


University of Bern

Related Malaria Articles:

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 Umeå 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.
More Malaria News and Malaria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Sound And Silence
Sound surrounds us, from cacophony even to silence. But depending on how we hear, the world can be a different auditory experience for each of us. This hour, TED speakers explore the science of sound. Guests on the show include NPR All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly, neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, writer Rebecca Knill, and sound designer Dallas Taylor.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.