Researchers at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular have discovered that the Plasmodium parasite, which is the cause of malaria, defends itself by replicating inside its host’s liver cells. Replicating inside the host’s liver allows the parasite to infect red blood cells and cause potentially deadly symptoms. Symptoms of malaria in humans include fever, chills, and a flu-like illness (cdc.gov).
Portuguese researchers have recently discovered that the Plasmodium parasite is resistant to autophagy, a cellular defense mechanism. However, the resistance to autophagy all hinges on the presence of UIS3, a protein which binds to another protein, LC3. When UIS3 is bound to LC3, a shield protects the Plasmodium parasite from autophagy, leaving the parasite free to replicate inside the liver of its host. However, parasites that lack the UIS3 protein do not have this protective shield, and can be eliminated by the host. Therefore, the UIS3 protein could potentially become a target for protection against the malaria parasite.
I think that this development in genetics could help so many people in the future. If a malaria vaccination or cure that renders the UIS3 protein inoperable could be developed, many lives will be saved. According to the CDC, 429,000 people died of malaria in 2015 alone. It would be amazing to see a combatant for malaria come out of this genetic discovery, especially now that drug resistance is becoming an issue.