Sea cucumber protein used to inhibit development of malaria parasite

Dec 21, 2007

Scientists have genetically engineered a mosquito to release a sea-cucumber protein into its gut which impairs the development of malaria parasites, according to research out today (21 December) in PLoS Pathogens. Researchers say this development is a step towards developing future methods of preventing the transmission of malaria.

Malaria is caused by parasites whose lives begin in the bodies of mosquitoes. When mosquitoes feed on the blood of an infected human, the malaria parasites undergo complex development in the insect’s gut. The new study has focused on disrupting this growth and development with a lethal protein, CEL-III, found in sea cucumbers, to prevent the mosquito from passing on the parasite.

Human blood infected with malaria contains parasitic gametocytes – cells which can create parasite sperm and eggs in the gut of the insect. These then fertilise, kick-starting the parasite reproductive process and life cycle by producing invasive offspring called ookinetes.

These ookinetes then migrate through the mosquito’s stomach wall and produce thousands of ‘daughter’ cells known as sporozoites. After 10-20 days these are ready in the salivary glands to infect another human when the mosquito takes a subsequent blood meal.

The international team fused part of the sea cucumber lectin gene with part of a mosquito gene so that the mosquito would release lectin into its gut during feeding. The released lectin is toxic to the ookinete and therefore kills the parasite in the mosquito’s stomach.

In laboratory tests the research team showed that introducing lectin to the mosquito’s gut in this way significantly impaired the development of malaria parasites inside the mosquito, potentially preventing transmission to other people. Early indications suggest that this sea cucumber protein could be effective on more than one of the four different parasites that can cause malaria in humans.

Professor Bob Sinden from Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences, one of the authors on the paper said: “These results are very promising and show that genetically engineering mosquitoes in this way has a clear impact on the parasites’ ability to multiply inside the mosquito host.”

However, Professor Sinden explains that there is still a lot of work to do before such techniques can be used to combat the spread of malaria in real-world scenario. This is because although the sea cucumber protein significantly reduces the number of parasites in mosquitoes, it does not totally remove all parasites from all mosquitoes and as such, at this stage of development, would not be effective enough to prevent transmission of malaria to humans.

Professor Sinden says he hopes studies such as this one, which improve scientists’ understanding of the complex process by which malaria parasites are transmitted, will lead to new advances in the quest to prevent malaria.

Source: Imperial College London

Explore further: Gamers helping in Ebola research

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tilted acoustic tweezers separate cells gently

Aug 25, 2014

Precise, gentle and efficient cell separation from a device the size of a cell phone may be possible thanks to tilt-angle standing surface acoustic waves, according to a team of engineers.

An easier way to manipulate malaria genes

Aug 11, 2014

Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria, has proven notoriously resistant to scientists' efforts to study its genetics. It can take up to a year to determine the function of a single gene, ...

The 'yin and yang' of malaria parasite development

Jul 09, 2014

Scientists searching for new drug and vaccine targets to stop transmission of one of the world's deadliest diseases believe they are closer than ever to disrupting the life-cycle of this highly efficient ...

Breakthrough in coccidiosis research

Jul 28, 2014

Biological researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are a step closer to finding a new cost-effective vaccine for the intestinal disease, coccidiosis, which can have devastating effects on poultry ...

Recommended for you

Gamers helping in Ebola research

7 hours ago

Months before the recent Ebola outbreak erupted in Western Africa, killing more than a thousand people, scientists at the University of Washington's Institute for Protein Design were looking for a way to stop the deadly virus.

Carcinogenic role of a protein in liver decoded

9 hours ago

The human protein EGFR controls cell growth. It has mutated in case of many cancer cells or exists in excessive numbers. For this reason it serves as a point of attack for target-oriented therapies. A study ...

A new way to diagnose malaria, using magnetic fields

Aug 31, 2014

Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and ...

User comments : 0