Competitive nature of malaria discovered

A research team at Edinburgh University has found that the reason malaria is such a deadly disease is directly related to its competitive nature as the parasite battles rival strains for survival in the human blood stream.

The research found that the malaria parasites develop sophisticated strategies to fight off potentially rival infections, the Scotsman reports.

As the malaria parasites enter the blood stream, they change strategies if they face competing strains of the infection by producing cells that replicate quickly as opposed to producing cells that can be taken up by a feeding mosquito to spread the disease.

“Our results explain a long-standing puzzle of parasite behavior,” Laura Pollitt, team leader and employee at the School of Biological Sciences, said, according to the Scotsman. “We found that when parasites compete with each other, they respond with a sophisticated strategy to safeguard their long-term survival. They opt to fight it out in the bloodstream rather than risk everything on the chance of infecting mosquitoes in the short term.”

By competing with rival infectious, malaria parasites have fewer resources left to spread the disease.

The research was recently published in the American Naturalist.

Malaria is a disease that kills approximately one million people each year and leads to one in five child deaths in all of Africa. While malaria cases fell from 244 million in 2005 to 225 million in 2009, there are still increased incidents in countries like Rwanda and Zambia.