What is it about?

Malaria continues to be a major public health problem throughout the developing world, and the parasites that cause the infection continue to defy all attempts to create a truly efficacious vaccine. The inability to create effective vaccines is reflected in the fact that natural infections are typically chronic and do not generate long-term, sterile immunity against future infections. These difficulties result from the parasite’s remarkable capacity to continuously generate diversity within the genes that encode the antigens displayed to the human immune system. This paper shows how antigen encoding genes can rapidly recombine with one another to create chimeric genes, thereby changing how the parasites appear to the immune system of their human hosts.

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Why is it important?

In this paper we show that in the process of repairing breaks in their DNA, malaria parasites can undergo cascades of recombination between antigen coding genes located throughout their genome, thereby rapidly accelerating the process of diversification. This helps explain how these parasites can elude immune clearance and vaccine development.


By both conducting new experiments and by reexamining previously published datasets, we were able to identify a common, unifying molecular mechanism. By working with authors from other laboratories, we now have a better understanding of these important parasites.

Kirk Deitsch

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Rapid antigen diversification through mitotic recombination in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, PLoS Biology, May 2019, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000271.
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