Press Releases

2002 Releases

Completed Genomic Sequence of Deadly Malaria Parasite Reveals Potential New Anti-Malarial Drug Targets

For immediate release:  October 02, 2002

Boston, MA- The complete genomic sequence for Plasmodium Falciparum, the major parasite behind the most lethal form of human malaria, has been mapped. Now researchers are looking for clues to the mysteries that have made malaria impossible to defeat with drugs. Dyann Wirth, Director of the Harvard Malaria Initiative and Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health is author of two papers focusing on what has been learned from the genetic sequencing of P.Falciparum and how it can possibly be applied to public health. The papers appear in the October 3 issue of the journal Nature and the October 4 issue of the journal Science.

Among the new findings;

  • Genetic variability of Plasmodium falciparum underlies its transmission success and thwarts efforts to control disease. Identifying those genes that exhibit the most genetic variability is critical to drug and vaccine development. A high-throughput analysis of Plasmodium falciparum chromosome 2 demonstrates that most of the variation is concentrated in the ends of the chromosome, a region that is known to contain surface antigen encoding genes.
  • This global approach to detecting polymorphisms has important implications for research in the post-genome era and illustrates how the results of the genome project can be used immediately to aid in the identification of candidate genes for drug and vaccine development in P. falciparum.
  • This work provides the most comprehensive analysis of genetic variation in a single chromosome from P. falciparum. Furthermore, the effort demonstrates that high-density oligonucleotide arrays can be utilized for identification of polymorphisms and provides evidence that these data coupled with genome information can reveal prospective targets for therapeutic intervention.

Malaria is the world's most serious parasitic tropical disease and kills more people than any communicable disease except for tuberculosis. There is more human malaria in Africa today than at any time in history. P.falciparum, the most lethal form of the disease accounts for the majority of infections, 200 to 300 million, resulting in 1 to 3 million deaths annually. One quarter of the world's population is at risk for infection. Malaria is a curable disease if promptly diagnosed and adequately treated. Increased risk of the disease is associated with land use changes such as agricultural and irrigation projects in frontier areas like the Amazon, South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and by the emergence and spread of drug resistant parasites.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu