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Study Finds Malaria Parasites Communicate with Each Other

Update Date: May 16, 2013 02:53 PM EDT
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Living organisms have continuously evolved over time in order to survive under new and different conditions. Whether or not these changes are physical or behavioral, they help the creature live. In a new study, researchers discovered that malaria parasites could communicate with each other, which improves the parasites' chances of being transmitted from human to human. Although the researchers could not determine if this was an adaption to the vaccines and medications used to kill these parasites, this newly discovered social behavior has definitely helped the parasites spread.

The research team, composed of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Professor Alan Cowman, Dr. Neta Regev-Rudzki and Dr. Danny Wilson, and Professor Andrew Hill from the University of Melbourne's Bio21 Institute and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, discovered that malaria parasites could send out messages to other malaria parasites within the region. According to the researchers, the malaria parasites were able to promote the activation of the other malaria parasites to develop into sexually mature forms. The process involves malaria parasites that are located inside red blood cells, which were able to talk to one another by sending out packages of DNA. These packages were able to inform other parasites that their life cycles should be completed soon so that they could be transferred back to the mosquito.

"Once they receive this information, they change their fate - the signals tell the parasites to become sexual forms, which are the forms of the malaria parasite that can live and replicate in the mosquito, ensuring the parasites survive and are transmitted to another human," Regev-Rudzki explained.

This study is important because the researchers hope that by directly attacking the communication between malaria parasites, they could ideally stunt the parasites' progress of becoming sexually mature and then spreading. Malaria still kills nearly 700,000 people per year, with most of its victims being young children.

The findings were published in Cell.

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