For the past 2 years, an international consortium of researchers has been drawing up a battle plan to attack the genome of the mosquito that carries the malaria parasite (ScienceNOW, 6 March). Now, thanks to a generous grant announced 8 August by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the consortium's war chest is brimming and a key ally has joined the fight.
Malaria kills at least 1.5 million people each year, mostly African children. For the Plasmodium parasite to infect humans, it must be transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Anopheles gambiae is the primary malaria vector in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers hope its sequence will reveal molecular targets for drugs and other antimalaria strategies.
The $9 million grant will go to Celera Genomics Group of Rockville, Maryland, the genome research company that led the private effort to sequence the human genome. Celera will rely on the so-called "whole-genome shotgun" approach, with which they sequenced the human genome (ScienceNOW, 10 January 2000). The strategy is to blast the genome apart, sequence the pieces, and fit them back together with computers. The company expects to have the mosquito's 260 million DNA base pairs sequenced by spring 2002.
Joining Celera in the initial sequencing will be France's Genoscope sequencing center in the Paris suburb of Evry, which earlier this year received a $3.5 million grant from the French government for its part of the work. Once this rough draft of the Anopheles sequence is completed, other partners will jump in to fine-tune it, including the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and the European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge, United Kingdom.
"We are witnessing a fantastic international effort from both the public and private sectors to tackle malaria," says entomologist Paul Brey of the Pasteur Institute, who is one of the project's key coordinators.