NEW YORK, March 15 - An international coalition has nearly finished sequencing the genome of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
The Institute for Genomic Research's Malcolm Gardner, one of the project's leaders, presented the team's preliminary results last month in Las Vegas at a microbiology genomics conference sponsored by TIGR and the American Society of Microbiology.
The team, a partnership of sequencers from TIGR, Stanford University, and the UK's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, project that the analysis will be finished and the remaining gaps closed by the summer.
If they hit their target, the accomplishment will mark the first publicly funded protozoan to be fully sequenced and annotated, as well as one of the first eukaryotic genomes to be entirely completed.
P. falciparum's genome is about 25 Mb and includes somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 genes.
But despite its moderate size, the parasite proved to be especially tricky to decode. Its genome is more than 80 percent As and Ts, making typical sequencing techniques much more difficult to use, and assembly much more complex.
"There was no magic cure," said Neil Hall, the project's Sanger Institute manager. "We had a lot of groups working on different mapping strategies, which made it more straightforward."
Hall said that the sequence still included roughly 100 small gaps.
P. falciparum is one of four malaria parasites that infect humans and is the most virulent and dangerous. Roughly 300 to 400 million people worldwide are infected with this parasite, and it kills about 1 million people annually.