Published On: Sat, Mar 15th, 2014

Scottish researcher discovers how Plasmodium allows human to human transmission

The breakthrough achieved by the University of Glasgow/Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute team has been to identify the way the parasite flicks the switch that allows transmission to take place.

Plasmodium falciparum ring forms/CDC

Plasmodium falciparum ring forms/CDC

The researchers have identified a single regulatory protein which acts as the “master switch” that triggers the development of male and female sexual forms (termed gametocytes) of the malaria parasite. It is these specialized sexual cells that are responsible for the infection of the mosquito and initiation of transmission.

If the malaria parasite is unable to take that crucial sexual developmental step, then transmission of the disease can no longer take place from one host to another. How parasites “decide” to produce sexual stages has been a mystery that has baffled malaria researchers for years – but no longer.

The researchers spent more than three years using highly-sophisticated genome sequencing techniques to identify mutants of the protein which prevent the development of gametocytes; then, they effectively reversed the process by genetic engineering of the mutant gene in the parasites to repair the protein switch which restored the parasite’s ability to make gametocytes. In other words, they were able to switch off and then switch on again the means of developing the form of the parasite that transmits malaria from one human to another and so prove that the protein acts as the switch.

Read the rest of the University of Glasgow news release

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