Biologist Frank Collins helps map malaria mosquito genome

by William G. Gilroy

The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced today that the Oct. 4 issue of its journal Science will feature a paper outlining the newly sequenced genome of Anopheles gambiae, the primary mosquito species that transmits the malaria parasite to humans. Research by Frank Collins, George and Winifred Clark Chair of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, formed an integral part of this project.p. Robert E. Holt of Celera Genomics, Inc., and Collins are the corresponding authors of the study. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded Celera a $9- million grant last year to help determine the genetic blueprint of Anopheles gambiae. Based in Rockville, Md., Celera houses the world’s largest genetic sequencing laboratory and is the company that mapped the human genome. Collins was the principal investigator of a $3 million grant that supported an international consortium of Anopheles researchers who produced genomic libraries, sequencing data and physical and genetic mapping data.p. The Anopheles genome effort began in 1999 when the World Health Organization joined NIAID, the Pasteur Institute’s sequencing center (Genoscope), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, and others to stimulate support for Anopheles genome sequencing efforts.p. That same year NIAID awarded a grant to Collins to conduct initial identification of Anopheles genes in collaboration with scientists at the European Microbiology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. NIAID made a second award to Collins in 2000 to produce the preliminary stage data that would have to proceed a full sequencing project. These studies laid the groundwork for the sequencing effort described in Science.p. The Oct. 4 issue of the journal also contains two additional research articles, ten viewpoints, four reports and an editorial related to the genome study. Researchers from Notre Dame’s Center for Tropical Disease Research and Training contributed to all the research articles and reports and to three of the viewpoints.p. Malaria is thought to afflict well over 500 million people and cause nearly three million deaths each year, more than 90 percent of which occur in infants and young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Science study. Anopheles gambiae is the major malaria vector in Africa and passes the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, on to humans when it feeds on their blood.p. The journal Nature also held a press conference in London today to announce that its Oct. 4 issue will feature a group of papers that describe and analyze the genomic sequence of Plasmodium falciparum.p. Now, for the first time scientists have the complete genetic information on an infectious organism (Plasmodium falciparum), its natural host (humans), and the insect (Anopheles gambiae) that transmits the disease from person to person.p. The special issue of Science suggests that new mosquito repellants, insecticides, and mosquito vaccines are some of the malaria-fighting tools that might be built using information from the mosquito genome.p.

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