News Tuesday June 14, 2011

Human genome ‘fights’ back against Malaria

Scientists and geneticists have recently published work that reveals a longstanding genetic struggle human’s have, and continue to have, with the potentially lethal parasite; including the subsequent ‘arms-race’ mutations are inducing.

The new information was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, showing that varying populations react to the parasites that cause malaria differently. Specifically the basis of how malaria enters the red blood cells and how each, both blood cells and disease, were ‘evolving’ to compete against each other.

“Different populations evolve independently, to a certain degree, so different populations can come up with unique mutations,” said Wen-Ya Ko postdoctoral fellow in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Both host and parasite try to fight [against each other] with mutations; it’s a co-evolution arms-race that leaves a signature of selection on the genes.”

Ko along with colleagues found that populations, after large scale cross-examination, that had the highest occurrence of malaria through environment, in places like Africa where nearly 90% of malaria deaths annually are accounted, also had the ‘strongest’ development for how the parasite enters the blood cells. “This [process] was strongest in populations that [has] the highest exposure to malaria,” confirmed Sarah Tishkoff, a professor at the same institute and part of the team.

"Any new information about how malaria infects cells and how humans have evolved natural defense mechanisms against that infection adds to the body of knowledge about the pathology of malaria," Tishkoff said.

Ko also pointed out that while the parasites gene is ‘highly mutable’ compared to humans, despite the findings, the possible positive benefits this research could aid development of further drugs and vaccines as treatment for the disease as nearly one million people die of malaria each year.

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