USM Team Hopes to Genetically Modify Viruses to Battle Malaria Parasites

By Koenig, Seth | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), July 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

USM Team Hopes to Genetically Modify Viruses to Battle Malaria Parasites


Koenig, Seth, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


PORTLAND, Maine -- A University of Southern Maine team believes it may be on the cusp of a better anti-malaria vaccine, by genetically modifying viruses to battle the malaria parasites.

Dr. Monroe Duboise, an associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology, and doctoral student Naun Lobo are leading a team of mostly graduate students who are engaged in pioneering research with the microscopic bacteriophages -- viruses which specifically infect bacteria. The scientists hope to add genome sequences to the genetic code already present in the bacteriophages to equip them with the biological weaponry needed to fight malaria parasites.

Current malaria antidotes, said Duboise, are complicated to produce and many are only effective against the parasite during the initial phases of infection. But if their genetic modifications to the bacteriophages are successful, the viruses could be armed with a variety of adaptations, allowing them to combat whatever growth phase of the parasites they encounter in the proverbial battlefield of the human body. The team hopes to create a microscopic Swiss Army knife, of sorts.

Also, he said, because bacteriophages are genetically simple, an anti-malaria vaccine based on bacteriophages would be cheaper and easier to produce than any antidotes currently circulated. Those qualities will help scientists keep pace with the rapid adaptation ability of malaria parasites, which grow resistant to antidotes and force the introduction of new vaccines every few years, Duboise said.

"Malaria has been studied for a long time, and treatments are still not very effective," said Lobo on Friday at the USM team's laboratory.

Duboise said the genetic modification work the team is aiming to develop could be replicated on small scales at microbiology labs anywhere in the world. …

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