The Genetic Secrets of the World's Deadliest Parasite

The Genetic Secrets of the World's Deadliest Parasite

Posted by Leanne Kodsman on

In a medical advance that could lead to the development of more effective antimalarial drugs and vaccines, new research uncovers the full genome of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that makes malaria so deadly.

Each year, malaria infects some 220 million people across the globe, resulting in the death of about 500,000 people. 9 in 10 people who are killed by malaria are infected with the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. For the first time, a new research technique gives insight into what is essential in the parasite's genetic makeup, which could lead to the development of better treatments and vaccines.


In a medical advance that could lead to the development of more effective antimalarial drugs and vaccines, new research uncovers the full genome of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that makes malaria so deadly.

Each year, malaria infects some 220 million people across the globe, resulting in the death of about 500,000 people. 9 in 10 people who are killed by malaria are infected with the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. For the first time, a new research technique gives insight into what is essential in the parasite's genetic makeup, which could lead to the development of better treatments and vaccines.

Mutating the Genome

The research team created a technique that mutated most of P. falciparum's thousands of genes, leading to a better understanding of how each gene functions.

They were able to successfully target adenine and thymine (two of the four chemical "building blocks" of DNA), a significant accomplishment since P. falciparum has a high percentage of adenine and thymine, which has proven to be a limiting factor in previous efforts to manipulate its genome.

From Hundreds to Thousands

Until this point, the P. falciparum parasite has remained resistant to many of the modern genetics-modifying methods, and as a result, it has only been possible to identify the function of a few hundred of the more than 6,000 genes. Using the new genetics tool - dubbed "piggyBac mutagenesis" - the researchers were able to characterize the function of nearly all of the parasite's genes.

Advanced Analysis

With some advanced computational analysis, researchers were able to narrow in on the approximately 2,600 genes that are considered the most essential to growth and resistance to existing antimalarial drugs.

Knowing the parasite's vital genes and pathways, the team hopes, will help to guide and speed up the development of more effective drugs and vaccines.

Further Reading & References:

Min Zhang, Chengqi Wang, Thomas D. Otto, Jenna Oberstaller, Xiangyun Liao, Swamy R. Adapa, Kenneth Udenze, Iraad F. Bronner, Deborah Casandra, Matthew Mayho, Jacqueline Brown, Suzanne Li, Justin Swanson, Julian C. Rayner, Rays H. Y. Jiang, John H. Adams. Uncovering the essential genes of the human malaria parasitePlasmodium falciparumby saturation mutagenesis. Science, 2018; 360 (6388): eaap7847 DOI: 10.1126/science.aap7847

University of South Florida (USF Health). "Unlocking the genome of the world's deadliest parasite." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 May 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180503142722.htm.


Innovative Research was established in 1998 after the realization that dependable, high-quality, and affordable research materials were hard to come by. Starting with core products like human plasma and serum, Innovative Research has grown to be a trusted supplier of all lab reagents, including human biologicals and ELISA kits. Today, we manufacture and supply over 3,000 high-quality human and animal biologicals including plasma, serum, tissues, and proteins.

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    Innovative Research was established in 1998 after the realization that dependable, high-quality, and affordable research materials were hard to come by. Starting with core products like human plasma and serum, Innovative Research has grown to be a trusted supplier of all lab reagents, including human biologicals and ELISA kits. Today, we manufacture and supply thousands of high-quality human and animal biologicals including plasma, serum, tissues, and proteins.


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