Genome Research has just published the results of a study led by researchers at the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research(CRESIB) revealing a hitherto unknown mechanism that enables the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum to adapt to common fluctuations in its environment. A substantial part of the research was also carried out at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and the Nanyang Technological University (Singapore).
The authors of the article have shown how, in a genetically homogeneous population of P falciparum parasites, each parasite is different. Using new highly accurate methods of analysis, the scientists discovered that more than 5% of the genes expressed in some parasites are repressed or silenced in other, genetically identical, parasites. Depending on which genes it uses or expresses, each parasite will be able to adapt to specific changes in its environment.
This means that, in any population of P falciparum, some parasites are spontaneously pre-adapted to the fluctuations commonly found in their environment, such as changes in the immune or metabolic conditions of the human host (eg malnutrition), the episodes of fever typical of malaria, the presence of antimalarial drugs, and the presence or absence of competition from other parasites. The mechanisms that mediate this spontaneous adaptation are epigenetic.
Written by: ISGlobal
Article in Genome Research: http://genome.cshlp.org/content/early/2012/03/13/gr.129692.111
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