Researchers discover malaria genetic "barcode"

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently found a new genetic "barcode" for malaria parasites that could be used to track and contain the spread of the disease.

The results of the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found the highly predictive barcode in the genetic sequence of a malaria parasite known as Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum). The barcode can be used to identify the geographic origin and monitor its spread through a patient's blood sample.

"Being able to determine the geographic origin of malaria parasites has enormous potential in containing drug-resistance and eliminating malaria," Taane Clark, a reader in genetic epidemiology and statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said. "Our work represents a breakthrough in the genetic barcoding of P. falciparum, as it reveals very specific and accurate sequences for different geographic settings."

The researchers examined the DNA of more than 700 P. falciparum parasites from patients in 14 countries in South America, Southeast Asia, Oceania and Africa.

The authors of the report said the understanding of the malaria barcode remains limited because the study did not include representation from the Indian subcontinent, Central America, parts of Africa and the Caribbean.

The authors also noted a need to study samples from East Africa, a region of high genetic diversity.