Washington, June 3 : UK scientists have shown the possibility of preventing malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum from becoming sexually mature.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who worked in collaboration with colleagues from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, say that the discovery they have made may help control the spread of drug resistance.
The researchers point out that the life cycle of Plasmodium falciparu is complex, and it has been unknown to date as to what triggers the production of parasite gametes or sex cells.
They say that though sexual forms of the parasite don't contribute to malaria symptoms, they are important for transmission of malaria between humans through the bite of a mosquito.
In their study report, published in the journal PLoS Biology, the researchers reveal that they have now identified a parasite enzyme that is crucial to the emergence of mature gametes within the mosquito.
Dr. David A Baker, a Reader in Parasite Molecular Biology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and senior author of the study, says: "The enzyme we have discovered, a protein kinasea, is essential for the development of malaria parasite gametes. Working with genetically modified parasites, in combination with inhibitors of this enzyme, we have demonstrated that it is feasible to block the sexual stage of the life cycle of the malaria parasite."
He adds: "This has exciting implications in terms of improving how we go about tackling malaria. If a drug can be developed that targets this stage of the life cycle, and combined with a curative drug, it would be an important new approach for controlling malaria transmission and the spread of drug resistance."