Back to Basics
Unfortunately, knowledge of the fundamental biology of the malaria parasite has lagged behind that of many other organisms, largely because of a lack of funding for basic research in this area. Computer-aided drug design or combinatorial chemistry cannot be applied in a vacuum: researchers need to identify the biological processes or specific enzymes that can serve as targets for new drugs or vaccines. To take advantage of these techniques, we need to learn more about the genetic makeup of the organism, its growth and development, and its relationships with the mosquitoes that carry it, the human host, and the environment. For example, we now know that the malaria parasite digests hemoglobin as its source of amino acids. Studying ways to prevent the digestion of hemoglobin could lead to new drugs.
Genetics research promises new insight into mechanisms by which the malaria parasite operates and might be defeated. For instance, techniques for producing parasites that contain a specific modification in a single gene will allow scientists to determine whether specific genes are associated with virulence, drug resistance, or enhanced transmission. This promises to usher in a period of rapid growth in our knowledge of the fundamental processes in the parasite.