Malaria :: Genetic diversity of malaria parasite

Three studies independently characterize the genetic diversity of the parasite that causes malaria in the January issue of Nature Genetics.

Two of the studies focus on Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly of the Plasmodium species known to cause human malaria, while one study also compares it to the related Plasmodium reichenowi, which infects chimpanzees. Overall, these data constitute a valuable resource that should improve understanding of drug resistance in malaria, as well as identifying candidate targets for vaccines.

Dyann Wirth and colleagues present a genome-wide map of diversity in P. falciparum, including full genome sequencing of 16 new and geographically diverse strains, and targeted sequencing of an additional 54 worldwide isolates. In an accompanying study, Xin-zhuan Su, Philip Awadalla and colleagues focus on sequencing of genomic regions coding for proteins within 4 P. falciparum isolates.

They sequenced approximately 3,500 genes, representing about 19% of the genome, develop a high-resolution map of genetic variation, and report 7 new candidate targets for vaccines. In the third study, Manolis Dermitzakis, Matthew Berriman and colleagues provide the first sequence of the P. reichenowi strain, as well as the sequence of two P. falciparum strains, and examine the evolutionary differences between the two. One of the P. falciparum strains, a new uncultured clinical isolate from an individual from Ghana, may provide a better model than strains cultured in the laboratory.