Scientists sequence two new malaria genomes

Last Updated: Aug 06, 2012, 17:58 PM IST

New York: Scientists have sequenced genome of a malaria parasite that constitutes about 65 percent malaria cases in India, paving the way for new vaccines to combat the disease.

The National Institute of Malaria Research in India was a part of the study which focused on Plasmodium vivax (P.Vivax), a species of malaria that afflicts humans and the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside Africa.

P. Vivax malaria constitutes about 60-65 percent of total malaria cases in India.

The study was led by Jane Carlton, part of New York University`s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology.

"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," Carlton who is also heading the International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research (ICEMR) based in India.

"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," Carlton said in a statement.

The researchers examined P. Vivax strains from different geographic locations in West Africa, South America, and Asia, providing the researchers with the first genome-wide perspective of global variability within this species.

Their analysis showed that P. Vivax has twice as much genetic diversity as the world-wide Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum) strains, revealing an unexpected ability to evolve and, therefore, presenting new challenges in the search for treatments.

Researchers from The Broad Institute, Arizona State University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also part of the P. Vivax sequencing.

In another study by Carlton with Professor Kazuyuki Tanabe at Osaka University, Japan, researchers have for the first time sequenced Plasmodium cynomolgi genomes.

Three genomes of P. Cynomolgi, a close relative of P. Vivax that infects Asian Old World monkeys were sequenced.

The researchers compared its genetic make-up to P. Vivax and to Plasmodium knowlesi (P. Knowlesi), a previously sequenced malaria parasite that affects both monkeys and humans in parts of Southeast Asia.

"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," explained Tanabe.

The studies were published in the journal Nature Genetics.