NIAID media availability: Examining genetic variability of malaria parasite offers insight

December 10, 2006

WHAT: Back-to-back papers published online this week in Nature Genetics reveal important new details about the genetic variability of the malaria parasite and provide new clues for how it causes disease. One paper, funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), reports the results of a massive effort to sequence and compare complete or partial genomes of 54 different samples from around the globe of the most deadly type of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The sequencing, carried out in part at NIAID's Microbial Sequencing Center, has revealed nearly 47,000 genetic variations in the parasite's genome. The genetic diversity captured by this map will help researchers understand the parasite's evolution and study malarial drug resistance. Two companion studies being published simultaneously include one led by NIAID scientists that identifies new antigens--pieces of the pathogen that are recognized by the immune system. Some of these new antigens may be potential targets for new therapeutics or vaccines to help control malaria.
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ARTICLES: "A genome-wide map of diversity in Plasmodium falciparum," by S Volkman et al. Nature Genetics DOI: 10.1038/ng1930 (2006). This study was conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health; the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard; Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal; the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; and Harvard Medical School.

"Genome-wide variation and identification of vaccine targets in the Plasmodium falciparum genome," by J Mu et al. Nature Genetics DOI: 10.1038/ng1924 (2006). This study was conducted by scientists in NIAID's Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research; North Carolina State University; and the University of Oxford.

SPOKESPERSONS: Martin John Rogers, Ph.D., Parasite Biology/Parasite Genomics Program Officer, Parasitology and International Programs Branch, NIAID Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases for the article by S Volkman et al.

Maria Y. Giovanni, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Microbial Genomics and Advanced Technology, NIAID Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, can comment on NIAID's Microbial Sequencing Center.

Xinzhuan Su, Ph.D., Senior Investigator and Head of the Malaria Genomics Section, NIAID Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research for the study by J Mu et al.

CONTACT: To schedule interviews, contact Jason Socrates Bardi in the NIAID News and Public Information Branch, (301) 402-1663, jbardi@niaid.nih.gov.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on basic immunology, transplantation and immune-related disorders, including autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)--The Nation's Medical Research Agency--includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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