Princeton University
Department of Molecular Biology

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Combating Malaria: New ideas for an old problem

Sun, Oct 12, 2008
Location - TBA


Professor of Molecular Biology


Professor Manuel Llinas started by asking the 400 secondary school students and teachers if they knew what the word malaria meant. Hands went up and students correctly said "bad air". He went on to share shocking CDC statistics that 400 million people are affected by malaria each year. A child dies of malaria every 20-40 seconds. The malaria parasite is carried by the Anopheles mosquito. Symptoms appear in 7-14 days and include flu-like symptoms. The key problems in malaria control are that it is a third world disease, that it is becoming more resistant to drugs and that there is no vaccine. Malaria belongs to the genus Plasmodium. Four species infect humans, with falciparum being the most lethal. The organism is an eukaryotic cell not, as the press frequently presents it, a bacteria or virus. Malaria's life cycle has three stages transitioning from the mosquito to the human liver and finally infection of red blood cells. The destruction of red blood cells can frequently lead to anemia. The strategies to control malaria range from development of new drugs and vaccines to mosquito control methods. Bed nets are a simple and effective way to control the spread of malaria. Professor Llinas shared his own research and approach to malaria. He reasoned that during the 48 hour cycle in red blood cells, when the parasite is developing from a merozoite stage to ring to trophozoite to schizont, that production of messenger RNA must be very active. Professor Llinas has been examining which genes are expressed in which stages using microarrays. Using a parasite culture system, his lab takes a sample out every hour and looks at gene expression patterns. He asked the audience how genes are turned on and off. He explained that DNA binding proteins, transcriptional regulators, are essential. His hope is that drugs can be found that will disrupt key genes from being expressed. Professor Llinas ended the talk with a remarkable computer animation video from Drew Berry. Following the talk, graduate students, Louis Sarry and Erandi DeSilva, shared glimpses of the parasite under microscopes with the students.

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