Linkage Projects 2020 Round 3 Announcement Banner

Malaria’s Dark Secrets Exposed

Malaria’s Dark Secrets Exposed

Image: The Plasmodium parasite, which is responsible for malaria.

2017 Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Geoffrey McFadden is a senior member of a research team at The University of Melbourne that has developed a genetic technique in which they can tag specific genes of Plasmodium (the parasite responsible for malaria) with fluorescent colours to better track them throughout the parasite’s complicated life cycle.

Fluorescent tagging opens up a range of experiments that researchers can now use to identify malaria’s weaknesses, providing drug developers with new targets for anti-malaria drugs, and hopefully stay ahead of the parasite’s ability to build resistance.

The technique has already been used to show which gene is critical for the Plasmodium to complete a stage of its development that occurs inside the human liver, and make the cell type that can infect red blood cells, in a study published in PLOS Pathogens.

Professor McFadden’s Laureate fellowship is focussed on discovering how Plasmodium (the parasite responsible for malaria) mixes its genes into new, potentially more successful combinations, during sexual exchange in the mosquito.  

During sexual reproduction, the Plasmodium recombines multiple sets of chromosomes, and then must ‘decide’ which genes are passed on to the next generation. Examining gene inheritance activity at such a very detailed level requires the ability to track genetic material with techniques such as fluorescent marking.

Professor McFadden recently co-authored a study, published in Science in 2016, which showed that an existing antimalarial drug atovaquone was more effective than previously thought, as the mutations which enable drug resistance to develop also prevent the parasite from reproducing in the host mosquito.

In addition to his Australian Laureate Fellowship, Professor Geoffrey McFadden has received several ARC Discovery Projects grants to continue his world-leading research into the malaria parasite, in the quest to end the scourge of the disease.

Back to top