Scientists from Melbourne have made a surprising discovery - malaria parasites actually talk to each other. This interaction between the parasites is expected to be linked to an increased chance of survival and better transmission into humans.
This study, published in the journal Cell, was led by a team of scientists including Professor Alan Cowman, Dr Neta Regev-Rudzki, Dr Danny Wilson and colleagues from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Infection and Immunity division, in collaboration with Professor Andrew Hill from the University of Melbourne's Bio21 Institute and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
During the course of the study, the researchers were shocked to discover that the parasites causing malaria worked together in unison to enhance the activation into mosquitoes, which are carriers of this disease.
"When Neta showed me the data, I was absolutely amazed, I couldn't believe it," Professor Cowman said. "We repeated the experiments many times in many different ways before I really started to believe that these parasites were signalling to each other and communicating. But we came to appreciate why the malaria parasite really needs this mechanism -- it needs to know how many other parasites are in the human to sense when is the right time to activate into sexual forms that give it the best chance of being transmitted back to the mosquito."
Malaria, which claims the lives of more than 700,000 people each year, is caused due to an infection with a parasite known as Plasmodium, which is transmitted through mosquito bites. Statistically speaking, more than half the world's population is at a risk of falling prey to malaria, which is why, a discovery like this could be more than helpful in strategizing treatments to eradicate this disease.
"We showed that the parasites inside infected red blood cells can send little packets of information from one parasite to another, particularly in response to stress," Dr Regev-Rudzki said.
With the findings of this study, the next step for the researchers would be to identify the molecule responsible for this interaction, blocking it, and thus help stop malaria in its tracks. Professor Cowman, along with other researchers claims that this study may help provide a base for the development of new anti-malarial drugs and vaccines.