Treatment and control of malaria improved using new genomics technique

May 16, 2014

According to new research revealed in a study at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and published in the journal Genome Research, single-cell genomics could provide new insight into the biology of malaria parasites, including their virulence and levels of drug resistance, to ultimately improve treatment and control of the disease. Two forms of malaria parasites were sequenced in the study; Plasmodium falciparum (responsible for up to 700,000 deaths per year) and Plasmodium vivax (responsible for 20 million infections per year).

Malaria infections commonly contain complex mixtures of Plasmodium parasites which cause the disease. These mixtures, known as multiple genotype infections (MGIs), can alter the impact of the infection due to parasites competing with one another and can drive the spread of drug resistance. MGIs are extremely common in regions with high levels of malaria infection, but their biology is poorly understood.

Current genome sequencing techniques involve the chemical disintegration of samples of red blood cells from infected patients to obtain parasite DNA, which are then sequenced. This grouped sequencing cannot account for variations between individual parasites found in cells. Single cell genomics allows the separation and isolation of cells to extract and sequence individual parasite DNA and determine any differences between the parasites within an infection. The technique allows a comprehensive description of the composition of MGIs, and will reveal information on the strength of an infection and the development of drug-resistance, which can inform disease control interventions.

Though the technology is currently too expensive and demanding for routine use in the clinic, as the technology matures the applications for understanding malaria biology are vast. Read the study abstract.

Read more