Researchers have found that a single regulatory protein acts as the master genetic switch that triggers the development of male and female sexual forms (termed gametocytes) of the malaria parasite.
The protein, AP2-G, is necessary for activating a set of genes that initiate the development of gametocytes-the only forms that are infectious to mosquitos.
The research also gives important clues for identifying the underlying mechanisms that control this developmental fate, determining whether or not a malaria parasite will be able to transmit the disease.
Manuel Llinas, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University, said that exciting opportunities now lie ahead for finding an effective way to break the chain of malaria transmission by preventing the malaria parasite from completing its full lifecycle.
He said that if the sexual forms of the parasite never develop in an infected person’s blood, then none will get into the mosquito’s gut, and the mosquito will not be able to infect anyone else with malaria.Llinas said that this sexual-stage bottleneck is an enticing target for interventions to prevent this comparatively small, yet critical number of sexual parasites from forming.
The research has been published online in the journal Nature.