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Malaria parasite zeroes in on molecule to enhance its survival, team finds
Date:2/19/2009

A team of researchers from Princeton University and the Drexel University College of Medicine has found that the parasite that causes malaria breaks down an important amino acid in its quest to adapt and thrive within the human body. By depleting this substance called arginine, the parasite may trigger a more critical and deadlier phase of the disease.

The scientists believe that shedding light on this poorly understood aspect of malaria metabolism has given them new insights on the interactions between the parasite and its human hosts. The work also may point the way to better treatments.

"The more we know about the parasite's metabolic network, the more intelligent we can be about targeting therapies that will cure malaria," said Kellen Olszewski, a graduate student at Princeton University and first author of the Feb. 18 Cell Host & Microbe paper describing the work. The project was led by Manuel Llins, an assistant professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton.

As a central part of the research, the scientists created a "metabolomic" profile of the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. Metabolomics is a new field that aims to analyze metabolic processes by simultaneously measuring the levels of all of the more than 500 core metabolites that make up an organism's "metabolic network." A metabolite is a chemical involved in metabolism, the process by which an organism takes up nutrients from the environment and converts them to energy and the molecular building blocks that cells use to grow. Amino acids, sugars, nucleotides and vitamins are all metabolites.

To conduct the study, the team used a mass spectrometry-based method developed in the neighboring laboratory of Joshua Rabinowitz, an assistant professor of chemistry at Princeton and another author on the paper. Mass spectrometry is a highly sensitive technique that identifies chemicals based on their size and
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Contact: Kitta MacPherson
kittamac@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert

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