New technique developed to disrupt malaria genes

Washington: Scientists have discovered a new way to manipulate genes of parasite that causes malaria disease.

MIT biological engineers have now demonstrated that a new genome-editing technique, called CRISPR, can disrupt a single parasite gene with a success rate of up to 100 percent, in a matter of weeks.

Jacquin Niles, senior author of a paper, said that the approach could enable much more rapid gene analysis and boost drug-development efforts.

Even though they had sequenced the entire genome of Plasmodium falciparum, a blood-borne parasite carried by mosquitoes, half of it, which was around about 2,500 genes, still remained functionally uncharacterized, added Niles.

CRISPR, a gene-editing system devised within the past several years, exploits a set of bacterial proteins that protect microbes from viral infection. The system includes a DNA-cutting enzyme, Cas9, bound to a short RNA guide strand that is programmed to bind to a specific genome sequence, telling Cas9 where to make its cut. This approach allows scientists to target and delete any gene by simply changing the RNA guide strand sequence.

Since the technology had been validated in Plasmodium falciparum, Niles expects that many scientists would adopt it for genetic studies of the parasite. Such efforts could reveal more about how the parasite invades red blood cells and replicates inside cells, which could generate new drug and vaccine targets.

The study is published in online edition of Nature Methods.