Malaria genome sequencing offers challenges and opportunities

Genomic sequencing recently reported by two multi-national research teams presents both challenges and opportunities in the battle against malaria.

The two studies focus on Plasmodium vivax, a malaria species that is the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside of Africa, and Plasmodium cynomolgi, a relative of P. vivax that infects Asian Old World monkeys. The studies were published in the most recent issue of Nature Genetics, Science Daily reports.

"The bad news is there is significantly more genetic variation in P. vivax than we'd thought, which could make it quite adept at evading whatever arsenal of drugs and vaccines we throw at it," Jane Carlton, the senior author on both studies, said, according to Science Daily. "However, now that we have a better understanding of the challenges we face, we can move forward with a deeper analysis of its genomic variation in pursuing more effective remedies."

The analysis of P. vivax determined that the parasite has twice as much genetic diversity as Plasmodium falciparum and has an unexpected ability to evolve. The P. cynomolgi study allowed the scientists to learn more about P. vivax, because it cannot be grown safely in a laboratory.

"We have generated a genetic map of P. cynomolgi, the sister species to P. vivax, so we can now push forward in creating a robust model system to study P. vivax," Kazuyuki Tanabe, a co-author on the second study, said, according to Science Daily. "This is important because we can't grow P. vivax in the lab, and researchers desperately need a model system to circumvent this."

Most of the work occurred as part of a seven year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.