New study has used the genetic make-up of the malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, to create 38,000 mutant strains of the parasite and then determine which of the organism's genes are essential to its growth and survival.
P. falciparum is responsible for about half of all malaria cases and 90 percent of all malaria deaths. New information about the parasite's critical gene repertoire could help investigators prioritize targets for future antimalarial drug development.
The international research team led by John H. Adams, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida, was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study appears in Science. Rays H.Y. Jiang, Ph.D., of Universtiy of South Florida, and Julian C. Rayner, Ph.D., of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, U.K., collaborated with Dr. Adams in this research.
The team used computational analysis to distinguish non-essential genes (those that could be mutated) from essential, non-mutable ones. About 2,600 were identified as indispensable for growth and survival during the parasite's asexual, blood stage. These included ones associated with P. falciparum's ability to resist antimalaria drugs, highlighting them as high-priority targets for new or improved antimalarial compounds, the researchers note.