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Malaria parasites adapt themselves to the host’s diet rhythms

Posted March 8, 2018

Nature is very adaptable. While everyone hates parasites you cannot ignore how easily they adapt to various situations and how difficult they are to combat. For example, now an international team of scientists revealed that malaria parasites actually time their multiplication rhythms to match animal‘s feeding times.

This is how an infected red blood cell looks like. Image credit: Rick Fairhurst and Jordan Zuspann via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

A couple of decades ago there was hope that by this time we will have malaria under control. While significant progress has been made, it is still a huge global health concern. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the University of Surrey, Stanford University and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, studied the timing of parasite rhythms in mice. They noticed that malaria parasites in the blood timed their daily multiplication rhythms to match when the animals were fed. When scientists changed the feeding time, malaria parasites changed they multiplication times as well.

Scientists saw that feeding time meant that malaria parasites grew in number and thus the disease became stronger. In other words, altering feeding times may disrupt multiplication rates in malaria, which could be a good strategy to manage the disease. The sudden increase in multiplication rates in malaria parasites can be linked to sugar levels that jump when animal is eating. Allowing animals to eat during the day instead of at night, altered the timing of parasite multiplication from night to day. Therefore, it is possible to disrupt the multiplication rates of malaria parasites – this could be achieved through diet changes or some medication.

Scientists say that this discovery can help encourage further research on this subject. A lot remains to be discovered. Why sugar levels matter for malaria parasites? How controlling them could change the spread of the disease? Dr Kimberley Prior, one of the scientists from the team, said: “We were surprised by how strongly malaria infection responded to changes in the eating times of the mice they were infecting. This offers a new avenue for research. If we can disrupt the link, it could reduce both the impact and the spread of malaria infection”.

The way malaria parasites adapt to survive and thrive is actually quite impressive. Understanding this mechanism better could lead to better treatments and many saved lives.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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