Genomic approaches to asymptomatic chronic malaria

Head of the team

Dr. Antoine Claessens

Research interests

How is the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum able to establish a chronic, asymptomatic infection in a human host? The GATAC-Malaria team is addressing this question using blood isolates collected in the field and Next Generation Sequencing technology.

Our ATIP-Avenir team is part of ParaFrap, a consortium of French molecular parasitologists, and MalariaGEN, a consortium for malaria genomics. We are currently funded by an ‘ANR-JCJC’ awarded to Antoine Claessens.

A major challenge for any malaria elimination campaign is Plasmodium falciparum asymptomatic infections, the hidden infectious reservoir. Nevertheless, these infections can provide useful information on the host-pathogen interactions over an extended period of time. Our lab strives to understand how P. falciparum parasites can survive in human chronic infections over the 6-month long dry season, using a collection of blood samples from a cohort of asymptomatic volunteers in The Gambia. To explore how the parasite senses its environment and adapt to it, we measure the parasite multiplication rate and sequence its transcriptome. Our novel protocol can sequence a whole transcriptome from as few as 1000 parasites. We will identify genes associated with seasonality using dry and wet season samples from The Gambia. In parallel, we focus on parasite antigenic variation by analyzing the dynamicity of the var gene transcription pattern.  

In summary, we will advance our understanding of the parasite biology and discover key molecular drivers of asymptomatic infections, a critical step to enable the eradication of malaria.

We recently published our main aims in Trends in Parasitology, here is a 2min video summary.