A potential target for a future malaria vaccine has been identified by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
They have found that algae and the mosquito-borne Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria use the same protein to fuse their male and female gametes during sexual reproduction, reports New Scientist.
The researchers found that gamete fusion in an algae called Chlamydomonas requires a protein called HAP2.
Since plasmodium also carries the HAP2 gene, Snell collaborated with malaria specialists at Imperial College London to find if the resemblance goes deeper.
They found that when HAP2 was knocked out in Plasmodium, mosquitoes failed to spread malaria between mice.
Researchers said that a vaccine designed to block HAP2 could break Plasmodium's reproductive cycle in people infected with malaria and could prevent its transmission to others, as the protein works when the parasite breeds in the mosquito's gut.
They have suggested that parasites transmitting African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and some tick-borne diseases also carry HAP2, and could succumb to similar vaccines.