Back-to-back papers published online this week in Nature Genetics reveal important new details about the genetic variability of the malaria parasite and provide new clues for how it causes disease.
One paper, funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), reports the results of a massive effort to sequence and compare complete or partial genomes of 54 different samples from around the globe of the most deadly type of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The sequencing, carried out in part at NIAID’s Microbial Sequencing Center, has revealed nearly 47,000 genetic variations in the parasite’s genome. The genetic diversity captured by this map will help researchers understand the parasite’s evolution and study malarial drug resistance. Two companion studies being published simultaneously include one led by NIAID scientists that identifies new antigens–pieces of the pathogen that are recognized by the immune system. Some of these new antigens may be potential targets for new therapeutics or vaccines to help control malaria.