World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 3.4 billion people across 92 countries to be at risk of being infected with Plasmodium parasites and suffering from malaria. There are challenges in studying genes of these parasites and identifying targets for development of drugs and vaccines.

Malaria occurs when these grow in the oxygen-carrying Red Blood Cells (RBCs) in the body. A malaria biologist has to cross a four-membrane layer to reach the genes. Gene delivery into the target cells is a popular choice to manipulate and study gene functions with the widely used method ‘electroporation’ where pores are created in the cell membrane using electric field to send desired chemicals like DNA.

Scientists at the CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) have announced development of an alternative and economic way of gene delivery within the Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ cells — responsible for majority of severe cases of malaria and deaths — called the ‘Lyse-Reseal’ method.

Dr Puran Singh Sijwali’s group at CSIR-CCMB working with Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ has been able to fill in RBCs by opening them up – a process also called ‘lyse’, with circular DNA of their choice. The RBCs are then resealed to close the pores and these are infected with Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’.

The parasite goes inside the RBC and passively takes up the DNA from RBC. The DNA eventually ends up in the parasite’s nucleus with its own genes. The group has shown the technique to be as effective as ‘electroporation’ with two different Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ strains and claim it works with 10 times lesser DNA than what is needed in ‘electroporation.

Main advantage of their method is it does not require an expensive electroporation device and other accessories. Hence, it can be used for Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ genetic studies even in low-resource labs to study Malaria.

The scientific group also demonstrated that RBCs of blood group ‘O+’ provide the most efficient delivery of DNA into Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ in vitro. This study has been recently published in Scientific Reports.

“Ease of making genetic alterations in the parasite will help in better understanding the biology of malaria pathogen and, thereby, help in control of the malaria parasite better,” said CCMB Director Dr. Rakesh Mishra.

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