Scientists develop method to trace malaria evolution

An international research team recently announced that it has developed a way to track the evolution of the malaria parasite in order to potentially trace and monitor the rise in resistance to anti-malarial drugs.

The technique's success suggests that scientists should be able to predict changes in the parasite population and follow the disease as it evolves, according to

The scientists developed the method by analyzing the genetic maps of P. falciparum, the bacteria responsible for the disease, taken directly from patient drug samples.

"If we want to control resistance, we first need to be able to monitor the genetic diversity of P. falciparum and identify hotspots of potential resistance as they occur," Dominic Kwiatkowski, who led the research team, said, reports.

Kwiatkowski works with Britain's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Oxford University.

"Rapid sequencing of parasite genomes from the blood of infected people is a powerful way of detecting changes in the parasite population and potentially an important new surveillance tool ... for controlling malaria," Kwiatkowski said, according to

The technique involves extracting the parasite's DNA from human blood and removing as much of the remaining human DNA as possible. The method alleviates the need to grow the parasite in a blood culture before examining its genetic code.

Malaria is believed to infect more than 200 million people around the world every year and kills an estimated 600,000, predominantly children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa.

The parasite's ability to evolve into strains capable of resisting existing treatments continues to undermine efforts at eradicating the illness.