An international research team led by the University of Bern has undertaken a large-scale experiment of the malaria parasite genome, revealing new targets to eradicate the deadly disease.
In 2017, there were 219 million cases of malaria and some 400,000 people died of the disease. 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 and, in contrast to humans, there is only one pair of each gene. This means that removing a gene can change the phenotype of the parasite – or the physical characteristics.
In a 3-year study published in Cellexternal link, a team of 22 scientists led by cell biologists at the University of Bern and Umeå University in Sweden, removed over 1,300 individual genes of the malaria parasite and observed the effects during the entire life cycle of the parasite.
Each of the 1,300 parasite genes were then replaced by an individual genetic code to analyze how the removal of the individual genes affects the parasite.
This systematic analysis was undertaken with support from the MalarX consortium based at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and is sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The researchers at EPFL were able to show the metabolic pathways of the parasite, which can help predict which genes are suitable targets for malaria control.
"The genome-wide screen with the corresponding metabolic models represents a breakthrough in malaria research," said Magali Roques of the team in Bern. The research revealed hundreds of targets that are urgently needed in drug and vaccine development to eradicate the disease.