Researchers Map Genes of Malaria Parasite, Carrier Mosquito

October 10, 2002
By Paul Recer
The Associated Press

Washington - Researchers have sequenced the genes both for the parasite that causes malaria and for the mosquito that spreads it to humans.

The double triumph gives medical science new weapons in the war on a disease that kills almost 3 million people a year.
In parallel efforts that involved more than 160 researchers in 10 countries, scientists mapped the genes for Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest form of malaria, and for Anopheles gambiae, a mosquito that prefers human prey and spreads malaria to millions with its bloodsucking bite.

The British journal Nature is publishing the complete genetic sequence of p falciparum, and the US journal Science is publishing the mosquito gene sequence. The two publications jointly announced completion of the double-pronged research at news conferences on Wednesday in London and in Washington.

Researchers hope that gene mapping will reveal genetic vulnerabilities that can be exploited to control the mosquito that is essential to the parasite's deadly work. Already scientists have identified gene weaknesses that may be exploited to disrupt the life cycle of the malaria parasite. For the mosquito, researchers have found genes that may lead to better insecticides or repellents, and to a better understanding of why the insect prefers humans for its blood meal.

Completing the gene mapping of malaria and its vector comes at a critical time in international public health, officials said. Studies show malaria is becoming increasingly resistant to chloroquine, a drug that has helped hold the line on the disease for decades. At the same time, the mosquito has become tougher to control with current insecticides.

The advances also come in an era when some experts fear a warming climate will allow the resistant malaria parasite to move into areas where it has been rare or unknown for many years. Officials said that malaria, though of a different strain, was detected in both humans and mosquitoes in the US state of Virginia recently, the first time in two decades that a wild reservoir of malaria has been found in the US.

"We are hopeful that this wealth of information will translate into new drugs, vaccines and insecticides that will more effectively control malaria and, ultimately, lift a burden of suffering from millions," said Dr Michael Gottlieb, a parasite expert at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health.

"This is an extraordinary moment in the history of science," Dr Carlos Morel, head of a World Health Organization group that supported the gene-mapping effort, said in a statement.

At the London news conference, Neil Hall, who led a 50-member team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, where much of the malaria genome was sequenced, said the new malaria gene map "contains every possible vaccine target and every possible drug target. We have presented scientists with the haystack. They have got to go out and find the needle."