Scientists Discover a Way to Halt Malaria Parasite Development at an Early Stage

Malaria continues to be a threat to mankind, as it is still the leading cause of death of young children and pregnant women. When a female anopheles mosquito bites a human, two events that eventually lead to malaria infection occur: one – the mosquito transmits the plasmodium parasite (commonly p. falciparum) in form of sporozoites, into the bloodstream of the human. These sporozoites travel to the liver and remain there for a few weeks, multiplying themselves asexually until they become the mature merozoites, and then invade the red blood cells, causing the fever and other early symptoms experienced; two – the mosquito takes in developed gametocytes from the body of the already infected human and digests them into its gut, where they undergo meiotic division to become the oocysts that contain thousands of sporozoites, waiting to be sent into the bloodstream of humans, beginning the whole cycle again.

Malaria Mosquito

Malaria Mosquito

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However, if the mosquitoes are unable to take in this sexual form of the parasite – the gametocytes – then, the asexual form -the sporozoites – would not be formed either, and there would be nothing to be transmitted to humans even when they biteThanks to the researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine who have been able to find what is behind the development of these gametocytes, there is the hope of availability of a means to obstruct the transfer of these parasites into humans.

The Study

The researchers have pinpointed the protein that influences the genes that code for the development of the gametocytes. In a previous study, it was discovered that AP2-G (the master activator of the regulators, including the HDP1 protein for gene expression in the parasites) is required to initiate the conversion from one form to the other within the parasite.

Meanwhile, this study is the first that reveals HDP1 protein as the key initiator for this switch to occur. They employed the gene-editing technology (CRISPR/Cas) in deleting the hdp1 gene in the falciparum parasite; microscopy and other lab technologies such as RNA sequencing, chromatin profiling, and flow cytometry to get a clearer view of the events going on in the cells of the parasite after the hdp1 gene has been deleted.

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They discovered that the cells were not influenced by any gene for their development into the sexual form, and assumed their peculiar sickle shape. This caused them to die off, therefore, unable to get into the guts of mosquitoes. They reported that this HDP1 protein is the first to be identified from the class of previously unidentified DNA-binding proteins in malaria. The team is still working to discover how the conversion causes the parasite to assume its sickle shape, as this is currently unknown.

Clinical significance

This study has revealed a very vital strategy for the control and prevention of humanity’s longtime threat – malaria. With the knowledge gained from this study, drugs that will immensely facilitate the deletion of the hdp1 gene, lessening the transmission of the parasite from the vector to humans, can be manufactured.

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Although more research is still ongoing to better understand the malaria parasite, this one has laid a strong foundation on which they can occur, and has given room for better novel preventive strategies to be uncovered. And maybe, just maybe, malaria can finally be wiped off the face of the planet.


The transcriptional regulator HDP1 controls expansion of the inner membrane complex during early sexual differentiation of malaria parasites



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