Washington: Researchers, who are trying to understand the biology of the malaria parasite, have discovered a potential weakness- low levels of DNA methylation in Plasmodium's genome "that may be critical to the survival of the parasite."
DNA methylation is a biochemical process involving the modification of DNA that plays an important role in development and disease.
Lead researcher Karine Le Roch, an associate professor of cell biology at University of California said the DNA methylation enzyme found in Plasmodium is quite different than the one in humans.
The researcher said that because it is different they can eventually find a way to target it and shut it down. If a drug can be developed that specifically inhibits the methylation enzyme, it could kill the parasite in infected humans.
Le Roch's ultimate goal is to map the regulatory networks controlling the entire life cycle of the Plasmodium parasite. She reasons that researchers really need to understand the entire biology of the parasite and how it replicates.
Plasmodium's life cycle is very complex as it lives in both humans and mosquitoes. The parasite moves to the salivary glands of an infected mosquito.
Once the mosquito bites a human, the parasite is injected into the blood stream and quickly reaches the liver cells, where it rapidly reproduces asexually, creating thousands of new parasites that move into red blood cells, their favorite food source. The parasite is transmitted from humans to mosquitoes when a mosquito draws blood from an infected human.
The study was published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe.