Scientists crack protein code of killer parasite

January 9th, 2012 - 10:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 9 (IANS) Researchers have cracked the protein code of a malaria parasite that killed 655,000 people in 2010.

The protein is an enzyme that Plasmodium falciparum - the protozoan that causes the most lethal form of malaria - uses to make cell membrane.

The protozoan cannot survive without this enzyme, but even though the enzyme has many lookalikes in other organisms, people do not make it.

Together these characteristics make the enzyme an ideal target for new antimalarial drugs.

Although five different species of Plasmodium can cause malaria, Plasmodium falciparum causes the most severe disease.

The protein’s structure might have remained an enigma, had it not been the “unreasonable optimism” of Joseph Jez, associate professor of biology at Washington, which carried his team through a six-year-long obstacle course, full of failures and setbacks.

“What my lab does is crystallize proteins so that we can see what they look like in three dimensions,” Jez says. “The idea is that if we know a protein’s structure, it will be easier to design chemicals that would target the protein’s active site and shut it down,” Jez says.

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