A team of experts from the University of Nottingham's School of Life Sciences found the key protein behind the growth of the malaria parasite Plasmodium.
Researchers said that the rampant growth of the disease within pathogen-carrying mosquitoes is due to a protein molecule called cyclin.
In a study issued in the journal PLOS Pathogens, scientists examined the function of cyclin and its consequences to parasite development.
The authors of the study said cyclin is one of the most important proteins for cell division. This protein causes cells to divide rapidly in the malaria parasite, they said.
There are also three different types of cyclin that grow within the parasite. The P-type cyclin is closely related to cyclins found within plants, researchers said.
Cells control their division and growth so that vital biological processes will occur at the proper time. Scientists call this the cell cycle. The master control proteins for the cell cycle are cyclins and their partners, as well as cyclin-dependent kinases. These are all crucial for a cell cycle progression to be successful.
The cyclin proteins have been well-studied within yeasts, plants and humans, but this is the first time that cyclins in Plasmodium were examined. Scientists said Plasmodium goes through atypical types of cell cycle during its growth in the human host where malaria is manifested and in the vector mosquito which transmits the disease.
Assistant Professor Bill Wickstead, who characterized cyclin-like genes among parasites called Apicomplexa with the help of Alexander Douglass, said that cyclins are diverse and these proteins comprise of various types in different organisms.
"What's interesting is that Plasmodium contains a really small set of unusual composition," explained Wickstead. He added that this was likely to be related to the unusual cell and life-cycles.
Magali Roques, the lead researcher of the study, said their findings will give more insight on the understanding of parasite cell division.
Roques also hopes that their research will someday lead to the elimination of malaria.
According to the World Health Organization, half a million deaths per year in developing countries are caused by malaria. There were more than 207 million cases of the mosquito-borne disease in 2012. Most of these cases occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.
Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases | Flickr