Microbiome Component Fights Malaria By Bradley Fikes

Microbiome component fights malaria

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An international research team has identified a bacterium in the human microbiome that triggers a natural protective response against transmitting malaria.

This may lead to development of human therapeutics against malaria. About 207 million cases of malaria were contracted in 2012, causing 627,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Working in mice, the study found that the bacterium, a strain of E. coli, triggers production of antibodies that kill the malaria parasite in the skin before it can enter the bloodstream. Moreover, in humans the presence of these antibodies correlates with malaria protection.

A team led by Portuguese researchers along with American and Australian colleagues published their study Thursday in the journal Cell. The first author is Bahtiyar Yilmaz, of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Oeiras, Portugal. The senior author is Miguel P. Soares, in whose lab Yilmaz works.

The team found that the E. coli strain expresses the sugar alpha-gal, which is also found on the surface of the Plasmodium parasite. This primes the immune system to recognize it as a foreign substance.

Exposure to alpha-gal has also been linked to an allergy to eating meat. The allergy appears to be caused by bites of the lone star tick.

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