Mapping genome of malaria parasite almost complete
9 February 2010
Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Biological
Sciences (SBS) has uncovered the genetic functions of most of the
genes of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
The work could lead to the development of more potent drugs or a vaccine
for malaria, which kills up to three million people each year.
Assistant Professor Zbynek Bozdech and his team of researchers,
including graduate students and post-doctorals from SBS' Division of
Genomics & Genetics, have scored a world first in successfully using
transcriptional profiling to uncover hitherto unknown gene expression
(activity) patterns in malaria. The research team's breakthrough was
published in the January 2010 edition of Nature Biotechnology
Transcriptional profiling is the measurement of the activity of
thousands of genes at once, to create a global picture of cellular
function. These profiles can, for example, distinguish between cells
that are actively dividing, or show how the cells react to a particular
This outcome in infectious disease pathology could potentially be the
decade's big breakthrough as it has yielded critical information about
how the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum — the most
deadly form of malaria — responds to existing compounds with curative
The genome or the complete DNA content of the Plasmodium
falciparum has about 5,300 genes. Up till now, scientists have a
good understanding of the gene functions for only about half of the more
than 5,000 genes. Using transcriptional profiling, Asst Prof Zbynek
Bozdech's team has successfully uncovered the gene functions for almost
the entire genome, with more than 90 percent of the gene functions from
the previously unknown half now better understood.
"Drawing on our findings, pharmaceutical companies could explore ways
to design a drug that targets the weakest link," said Asst Prof Bozdech
of his research which was supported with S$900,000 in grants from
Singapore's Ministry of Education and the National Medical Research
Council. "We have predicted all the genes that could be used for a
vaccine as well," he said.
Researchers at Germany's renowned institute for tropical diseases,
the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, have validated the
research findings, which are expected to provide exciting new insights
into parasite biology.
"The successful NTU-BNI joint project has led to the creation of the
world's first database to predict the functions of more than 2,500 genes
of the malaria parasite previously unknown. The database would be useful
to scientists around the world who are developing new vaccines and
drugs," says Dr. Tim Gilberger, Head, Malaria Research at BNI.
Preventing malaria infection is important because resistance to
anti-malarial drugs is a growing problem worldwide. There is currently
no vaccine for malaria, which is widespread in poorer countries where it
remains a hindrance to economic development. Also of growing concern to
scientists is the confirmation of the first signs of resistance to the
only affordable treatment left in the global medicine cabinet for
In successfully using transcriptional profiling to study the
behaviour of the malaria parasite, NTU's researchers have ventured into
the unknown and paved the way for future breakthroughs in healthcare.
"The wealth of new information arising from our extensive four-year
study is a major contribution to the worldwide effort to better
understand and treat malaria," said Prof Peter Rainer Preiser, Deputy
Director of NTU's BioSciences Research Centre and a member of the NTU
Hu, et al. Transciptional profiling of growth perturbations of the
human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Nature Biotechnology.