A man is treated for malaria in Thailand.

A man is treated for malaria in Thailand. Credit: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty

Infection

Lethal malaria parasite’s weaknesses revealed

Genomic insights could inform discovery of more durable drugs.

A sweeping genomic analysis of the most deadly malaria parasite has revealed targets for more resilient drugs against the pathogen.

The parasite Plasmodium falciparum has evolved resistance to every licensed drug. To aid the search for compounds that present higher barriers to resistance, a team led by Elizabeth Winzeler at the University of California, San Diego, exposed 262 strains of P. falciparum to a range of antimalarial agents. By analysing the genomes of strains that evolved resistance to the chemicals, the researchers identified the mutations that were most- and least-often linked to the parasite’s ability to survive an onslaught of antimalarial drugs.

The team reasoned that genes with infrequent mutations would make good drug targets, because they seem less likely to adapt to new antiparasitic agents. Some of those genes code for enzymes, which can be targeted by drugs that are easier to administer than other types of therapy.