NEW YORK, Oct. 2 - An international consortium of scientists has sequenced the genome of the parasite that causes malaria in humans.
The sequence and analysis of the Plasmodium falciparum genome, which the journal Nature has published in a 60-page special section in its Oct. 3 issue, provides a detailed snapshot of the parasite's life cycle and metabolism and may help researchers devise better ways to fight it.
Some 150 scientists from The Institute for Genomic Research, the Naval Medical Research Center, the UK's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the Stanford Genome Technology Center, spent more than six years to sequence the P. falciparum genome.
Using whole genome-shotgun strategy, with Sanger sequencing nine of the parasite's 14 chromosomes, TIGR four, and Stanford one, the researchers found that P. falciparum has roughly 24 million base pairs strung out along 5,300 genes.
According to TIGR, P. falciparum represents "one of the most difficult" genomes its teams have ever sequenced. The institute this fact to the finding that about 80 percent of the parasite's sequence comprises only half of the requisite number of nucleotides.
"That makes the DNA very difficult to isolate and to sequence," explained Malcolm Gardner, the TIGR associate investigator who is the first author of the main P. falciparum paper.
What Gardner and his colleagues did find was that P. falciparum has "much lower metabolic capability that other free-living microbes and relies on the host to provide many of the nutrients required for its growth." However, the researchers also found that "some of the enzymes identified" in the parasite have no counterparts in humans and thus "may make good targets for chemotherapy."
The Nature section also includes an article that compares P. falciparum with the malaria common in rodents, P. yoelii yoelii. Similarly, the journal Science has published the genome of Anopheles gambiae, the mosquito that carries P. falciparum.