The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) today announced a $9 million award to help reveal the genetic secrets of malaria, a complex disease responsible for up to 3 million deaths worldwide each year. Through the grant to Celera Genomics Group, NIAID has expanded its efforts to determine the genetic blueprint of Anopheles gambiae, a mosquito species that transmits the malaria parasite to people. As part of an international consortium of A. gambiae researchers and genome sequencing centers, Celera scientists will help sequence the mosquito genome and make the information freely available to the scientific community. Celera anticipates completing the project next spring.
Malaria is caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium. The disease strikes 300 to 500 million people annually, 90 percent of who live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 40 percent of the world's population lives in areas where malaria naturally occurs.
Malaria parasites undergo a complex life cycle; to thrive and spread they must spend parts of their lives in both humans and mosquitoes. To learn more about how the parasite, mosquitoes and humans interact, researchers will study the Anopheles genome along with the recently deciphered human genome and the soon-to-be-completed DNA sequence of the deadliest malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The three genome sequences will provide scientists with a unique opportunity to study the natural history of malaria. For the first time, researchers will have the complete genetic information on an infectious organism, its natural host, and the insect that transmits the disease from person to person.
"This initiative will give us the pieces to an incredibly complex puzzle," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "By analyzing and comparing the genomes of all three organisms, researchers will have a wealth of new information for understanding malaria and how it is spread, and for use in developing new tools to help reduce its devastating impact."
NIAID's Anopheles sequencing program is part of an international consortium that began in 1999. Early that year, the World Health Organization joined NIAID, the Pasteur Institute's sequencing center (Genoscope), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and others, to stimulate support for Anopheles genome sequencing efforts. That same year, NIAID awarded a grant to Frank Collins, Ph.D., at the University of Notre Dame, to conduct initial identification of Anopheles genes in collaboration with German scientists. In 2001, NIAID made a second award to Dr. Collins to direct a targeted Anopheles gambiae genome sequencing project. Those studies laid the groundwork for the new sequencing effort.
NIAID's $9 million grant to Celera will enable the Institute to expand on the earlier studies by tapping recently developed advances in genome sequencing, and increases the Institute's total contribution to Anopheles genome sequencing to more than $13.8 million. These resources and Celera's expertise will allow the mosquito genome sequence to be rapidly completed and quickly made available to the malaria research community.
Once the genome is sequenced, it will be assembled by combining the data generated by Celera with data generated at Genoscope. The Anopheles sequencing consortium will then begin the process of annotating the genome, identifying individual genes and placing them in order along the insect's chromosomes.
NIAID supports a significant number of projects to determine the DNA sequence of the world's most dangerous human pathogens. NIAID-supported investigators have completed the genome sequence of 13 disease-causing bacteria, and partial genetic sequences of the parasites that cause leishmaniasis and malaria. Ongoing projects seek to reveal the genome sequences of 37 more bacteria, fungi and parasites.
Celera Genomics Group is an Applera Corp. business.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.
Additional information on NIAID's malaria research and genomic sequencing activities is available at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/dmid/genomes.
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.